News Post

Merriam Park Bear Dens
Shawnee Mission School District

Merriam Park Elementary School will soon be recognized as a “School of Promising Practice” by the Civic Advocacy Network (CAN) established by the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE).

This award is given to schools that have a particularly innovative, effective, or unique program that shows potential for impacting student engagement.

Merriam Park is being recognized for their Bear Dens program. Since Bear Dens began in 2017, the elementary school has seen a significant drop in student tardiness and absences on mornings when Bear Dens are held.

“Our entire community became stronger,” Dustin Springer, instructional coach said.  “You could feel the difference in the building.”

Each of the 42 Bear Dens includes students from Pre-kindergarten through sixth grade who meet twice a month.

A key thought that inspired the creation of Bear Dens is that all children deserve to have at least one caring adult in their life that will be there to support them. So, each staff member in the building leads a Bear Den, including the principal, members of the office staff, and the school custodian.  The students also have greater opportunity to meet and make friends in other grade levels.

At each Bear Den meeting students and their den leader work on common goals and discuss non-academic values, leadership, and work to strengthen their school community.

The “School of Promising Practice” recognition is also given to honor Bear Dens’ efforts to fight food scarcity. The Bear Dens partnered with Hocker Grove Middle School and Shawnee Mission North High School.  Together they donated nearly 2,000 cans of food collected for Merriam Christian Church, which provides food to people in need in the community. 

This year the Bear Dens are collecting shoes to support Soles for Souls. At the first Bear Den meeting this school year, students set goals for the number of pairs of shoes they could donate. The Bears named their den and colored a poster with their name and goal for the shoe collection drive.

“We are looking forward to setting new goals, making new friends and supporting Soles for Souls with our Bear Dens at Merriam Park this year,” Springer said.