Rebuilding Community: Navigating the New Normal

Dr. Mark Greenberg, Dorothy Morelli, Denine Parks-Goolsby, and Dr. Joseph Gerics

As educators, our lives have been forever changed. We have all experienced trauma in some form. As schools begin to make plans for reopening, it is imperative that we address the effect of this pandemic experience not only for our students, but also for the adults who work with them. This webinar will discuss ideas about how schools can begin to rebuild a sense of community including exploring adult social and emotional needs, collaborating on strategies to build caring connections with our students and colleagues.

Planning for the Return: Building Student Agency

Join our two award-winning mindful educators who have successfully implemented mindfulness and well-being into their school programs. Meet the educators who continually build student agency though their creativity and dedication.  Learn how they have created virtual SEL sessions & mentored the team of NuYu!

Garfield Preparatory Academy Embraces SEL & Each Learner’s Right to Feel Loved

Pure Edge has partnered with Garfield Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C., to bring Culture of Care training to educators and learners.

As the school day begins, the halls of Garfield Preparatory Academy are still. In the classrooms, the loudspeakers project a calm voice directing students and staff to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Once following the morning announcements and once at the end of the school day, the whole school sits quietly for a “Mindful Minute.” The goal, to help educators and learners start each day with calm and focus. In the afternoon, the minute allows listeners to cool down and end the day with a sense of peace.

Garfield Prep is one of five schools within D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) that have received Pure Edge’s Culture of Care training.

Concerned with the prevalence of absences, suspensions and altercations between students, Principal Kennard Branch felt that it was time to adopt a new approach. He and his leadership team implemented a shift toward social and emotional learning after reviewing the behavioral and attendance data. “That was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said. The educators and administrators at Garfield know their learners face a high number of challenges outside of school. No matter how advanced their math skills or how many languages they speak, how can learners be expected to sit still and focus if they come to school hungry, or without a coat on a cold day? School psychologist Chandrai Jackson-Saunders explained, “We said, ‘we are going to look at behavior as content, just like we do reading and math.’”

Another element of the focus on SEL has been to introduce “calming centers” into classrooms.

Each educator has created a space in the classroom where learners can manage stress and challenging emotions. Kia McCardell, a math instructor with ten years of experience, was especially energized when speaking about SEL. She told us that she could go on forever about her ideas for her classroom or the books and research that inform her teaching. For her, it comes down to each learner’s right to feel loved. As she became more knowledgeable about SEL, Ms. McCardell’s mission was to transform her entire classroom into a calming center, as a way to provide an atmosphere where students can feel safe, loved and calm.

Megan Callahan, a third-year special education teacher, spends each school day at Garfield with the same eight students. She is one of the teachers who embody the school’s commitment to SEL. She helps learners understand their feelings, and once they’ve identified them, work to manage them. To Ms. Callahan, educating the whole child means meeting students where they are. It also means that educators do their best to recognize challenges learners face with basic needs or the at-home struggles they may face. She shared that SEL offers learners and educators alike “the ability to cope with the world around them.”

Katie Larkin, Superintendent for Cluster I at DCPS, described the educators and staff at Garfield Prep as “a group that knows every single child, that will fight for every single child and that will make sure every single child feels loved.” As a result of this commitment to social and emotional learning, Principal Branch now believes that when you walk through Garfield, “You can see, hear and feel learning taking place.”

 

San Diego Unified Turns Focus to SEL to Manage Stress Within Large, Diverse School Communities

One of the largest school districts in the U.S. has partnered with Pure Edge in response to an increase in stress and anxiety. Both educators and learners reap the benefits.

“I’m passionate about SEL,” said Kearny High School English teacher Daina Weber, “and I felt like this was another opportunity for students to get skills in self-discovery and self-care.” She had just finished participating, with three of her ninth-grade classes, in the first of four Pure Edge training days. Kearny is a project-based learning school in one of the largest and most diverse districts in the nation, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and its new students have embarked upon a social and emotional learning project. Weber’s new ninth-grade learners are the first at the school to receive the trainings since Pure Edge began partnering with SDUSD in support of the district of roughly 200 schools, over 120,000 students and nearly 6,000 teachers. With the help of advocates like Lynn Barnes-Wallace, the district’s physical education resource teacher, the impact of the partnership is permeating the school communities and beyond.

To launch the district-wide rollout, SDUSD specifically requested a focus on educator well-being, in response to an increase in stress and anxiety. After Pure Edge’s initial visits, Barnes-Wallace began encouraging other educators to regularly employ mindfulness practices. “I use the starfish all the time,” she stated, referring to Pure Edge’s Starfish Breath Brain Break. With repetition, tools like these become second nature. Educators and learners alike can learn to reset or self-regulate in any place, at any time. Barnes-Wallace knows that the essential aspect of successfully equipping her district with SEL strategies is engagement from educators and learners. As these tools become routine components of the school day, they support a strong foundation for mindfulness and stress management in the school culture. She shared that she receives regular feedback from SDUSD learners asking for more mindfulness in their schools, suggesting that their classes incorporate mindful movement and breathing as a daily expectation and excitedly sharing that they plan to teach the skills to their families. The educators she has spoken to are just as invested. “The greatest thing about this is that the teachers have just gravitated toward this; it’s amazing,” she revealed.

“We had one principal who heard about it and made the hour-long Pure Edge training a breakout session, and roughly 90 teachers showed up by choice. The room was packed.”

Pure Edge Director of Programs and National Trainer Anne Contreras used a Brain Break to set the tone for each session with Weber’s ninth-graders—the educators expect that as learners gain experience with the techniques shared in the first session, they will individually step up to lead the classes in the breathing and movements. The ninth-graders had begun exploring parts of the brain and their functions in biology class, and in the Pure Edge training, they quickly found that the science their biology teachers had shown them would directly apply to the practices they learned.

“We’re going to be activating our cerebellum later as we move,” Contreras offered to the class as an example, “because you’re going to need it to balance.”

Last school year, Kearny’s ninth-graders worked with Barnes-Wallace on a project that focused on physical health. As Weber explained, “We wanted this year’s students to feel like they were taking on their own, equally important role in addressing health needs. Additionally, we were reflecting on how many of our students have struggled with emotional issues in our past teaching experiences and felt that this project could empower students, while simultaneously providing them with tools for self-care.”

The sessions at Kearny will continue through January 2020, and the ninth-graders plan to subsequently visit elementary schools in the area to teach the practices to younger learners. Weber envisions her classes mastering the exercises and sharing them within their own communities. “Ultimately our goal is for our students to become the experts,” she explained. Throughout the district, the focus has turned to developing social and emotional skills for learners and educators. Leadership understands that educator-educator, educator-learner and learner-learner relationships all fuse to determine a school’s climate. As Barnes-Wallace tells it, the students realize the power of these skills as well.

“Kids ask for this kind of stuff now,” she said. “That’s the best part. They’re driving all of this.”

Lutheran Services Florida: Saving Jacksonville’s Head Start Program and Strategizing to Transform Its Culture

LSF Duval has partnered with Pure Edge to build on its Head Start program’s incredible turnaround.

Five years ago, no one would have believed that the Head Start program in Jacksonville, Florida, would one day receive a glowing write-up from the New York Times or a feature on NBC Nightly News. A visit from federal authorities had found numerous health and safety violations, with conditions unsuitable for young children. They removed the nonprofit that had been running the program and enlisted Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) to attempt a turnaround. Since then, LSF has achieved that turnaround, and perhaps even a total transformation. Praised by local and national news outlets for its cleaner facilities, better-qualified teachers and stricter standards, LSF has improved outcomes for children. Much of the staff has experienced major structural changes and witnessed harsh criticism of the program through its history, and LSF leadership is now determined to create a positive climate for both employees and learners.

“In the next grant cycle, we want to focus on physical and mental staff wellness and do the same for our children in the classroom,” shared Maria McNair, Deputy Director of LSF Duval Head Start, the branch serving the Jacksonville area.

Partnership with Pure Edge has been part of a broader strategy for staff wellness, and the potential impact extends beyond LSF employees to the thousands of children they serve. LSF Duval directly operates 11 sites, with another 21 operated through childcare partners and school district sites throughout the city. They serve approximately 1,400 children and their families, and LSF statewide serves over 5,000.

When Pure Edge visited Jacksonville to present Educator Self-Care and Brain Breaks Implementation for LSF employees, “it was a very timely partnership, because we are implementing mindfulness in the classroom and transitioning to a brand-new curriculum,” said McNair.

“Pure Edge has provided an intentional focus for teachers to implement Brain Breaks throughout the day and for staff to be conscientious about their self-care and ensuring their overall wellness.” Now, whenever the staff meets, they include a Pure Edge strategy such as a Brain Break in the agenda.

McNair has found that an understanding of basic neuroscience and the ability to consider why learners behave in certain ways have been important takeaways for educators and staff. In her view, the major highlights for her team have been “the tangible strategies that they can easily remember and implement to de-escalate situations and calm themselves.” Team leadership has noticed the early impact of educators using those strategies and sharing them with learners. “The teachers have seen a difference in some of the behaviors with children,” said Catherine Penton-Gooch, Early Childhood Education Program Manager.

“When they start this process at the beginning of their school time, they are ready to learn and able to relax and connect.”

She and other staff members have employed the breathing and movement techniques at home as well. McNair has personally integrated a favorite posture into her self-care practice at home and shared it with her nephew and sons. Penton-Gooch also introduced the techniques into her family life. “I went home and did the Starfish with my two-year-old grandson,” she said. “Not only did I like it professionally for our staff, but I was also able to do it personally and implement it in our house. In today’s world, we need that time.”

Now that LSF has turned the Head Start program around, it must consider where it goes from here and what its vision for the future looks like. Leadership understands how important it will be to have classrooms where adults model social-emotional skills for young learners in their interactions with each other and in the management of their own emotions. They want to design new spaces where staff can break away for quiet moments of reflection and regulation. McNair hopes for a “shift in energy” in the classrooms and to achieve the fewest possible negative incidents between educators and learners. She acknowledges that that adverse childhood experiences, trauma and challenging behaviors will always exists. But she knows that a group of teachers who can remain compassionate toward learners and access a toolkit of strategies will make a major difference in the lives of the young children they serve.

“I am a firm believer that if we have staff who are strong, confident, knowledgeable and taking care of themselves,” she explained, “in turn they are going to bring the best versions of themselves into the classrooms, and children’s outcomes will be affected in a positive way.”

D.C. Public Schools Aren’t Afraid to Talk About Love

The district has prioritized a social and emotional education for all learners.

In many schools and districts, it might be rare to hear the word “love” used freely and with intention by educators and administrators. But during a recent visit to Garfield Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C., we heard from educators and District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) leadership who all shared a common message: Every learner deserves to feel loved. For the district, that simple but vital fact is a nonnegotiable piece of educating the whole child.

But how does a large school district manage to provide a whole-child education for every learner when there are so many to serve? DCPS opted to make educating the whole child an explicit priority within the district’s strategic plan.

It defines educating the whole child as providing “rigorous, joyful and inclusive academic and social emotional learning experiences to ensure all students are college and career ready,” and it aims to embed SEL in its classrooms and overall culture.

But perhaps the most distinctive part of the DCPS approach is that one of the official goals of its strategic plan, listed right between “90 percent of students graduating within four or five years” and “100 percent of schools highly rated or improving,” is “Goal 4: 100 percent of students feel loved, challenged and prepared.”

Treating SEL as a content area is a big piece of reaching that goal. DCPS offers twelve treatment interventions in support of learner mental health. It also employs a School Mental Health Team that promotes healthy relationships and emotional regulation, aiming to increase every learner’s access to mental health services. But the district understands that empowering young people through a comprehensive social and emotional education will provide them with skills they can carry throughout their lives, in and out of the classroom. To do that, educators work to treat SEL the same way schools are accustomed to treating math and reading.

“We are developing a really robust, multi-tier system of supports that includes the work Pure Edge has done with us this year,” said Dr. Deitra Bryant-Mallory, Senior Deputy Chief of Student Supports. Pure Edge continues to visit schools throughout the district to deliver Culture of Care training to educators and staff.

Bren Elliott, Chief Equity Officer, wants to ensure that “every student is in a class where they feel nurtured, supported and challenged to be their very best self.” Chandrai Jackson-Saunders, School Psychologist at Garfield Prep, explained that the challenges with which learners struggle can be academic, financial, medical and social-emotional, and schools must recognize the impact all of those factors can have on learning. This is why Garfield implemented the Behavioral Instructional Leadership Team, introduced “calming centers” into classrooms and developed monthly parent workshops to teach parents stress-management strategies to use at home.

“If you really want a student to be successful,” explained Katie Larkin, Instructional Superintendent for Cluster I, “you have to invest their whole family in their education.”

She assigns much of the credit for Garfield’s success to Principal Kennard Branch, stating that he has “worked to make Garfield a place where kids learn and feel loved.” Garfield Prep stands out as an SEL pioneer in the district, but DCPS leadership champions the cause throughout its schools, determined to reach every single learner.

With Teri Lawler as a Champion, Delaware Commits to Trauma Awareness in Schools and Beyond

The Delaware Department of Education is taking on trauma state-wide through partnerships with organizations like Pure Edge, and Teri Lawler is at the helm.

A decade ago, while Teri B. Lawler was working in one of Delaware’s most vulnerable zip codes, a student told her he had seen a body in the street on his walk to the bus stop. Reluctant at first to believe the story, Lawler called up a friend in law enforcement to confirm. This was the moment she recognized the significant role that trauma was playing for the children growing up in her community. She is now a key part of Delaware’s push for universal trauma awareness, mindfulness practices and social and emotional learning, recognizing that these are all components of creating a whole-child education and compassionate environment for learners.

“Innovation” is Lawler’s favorite word. All of her career accomplishments, she feels, have come from her ability to innovate, problem-solve and enthusiastically experiment with new projects.

She has been fortunate, she said, to work for people “who really appreciated an entrepreneurial spirit.” Now serving as Education Associate for Trauma-Informed Practices and Social and Emotional Learning at the Delaware Department of Education, her commitment to innovation is one of the driving forces of Delaware’s mission to take on trauma state-wide. She is also a member of the Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative and the Wilmington Advisory Council on Youth Gun Violence, which was formed in response to the Center for Disease Control’s report on youth gun violence and the creation of a predictive tool that worked backward to discover root causes of why children were most at risk for committing gun violence. As it turned out, the tool predicted the same early vulnerabilities that Lawler and colleagues were already monitoring in their early warning systems for school success: third-grade reading levels, school attendance and disciplinary records. Explained Lawler, “School success makes you less likely to commit gun violence, and I believe connection and belonging, as well as hope for the future, are big contributors.”

In 2016, Lawler developed a partnership with the Office of the Child Advocate, and shortly thereafter, Governor John Carney created the Office of Innovation and Improvement. In October 2018, the governor signed an executive order declaring Delaware a trauma-informed state. The Department of Education was the first state agency to create a position to lead that mission, and Lawler was the one who earned the opportunity to jump in and expand the work throughout the state. After state leadership met with Pure Edge, Lawler was tasked with crafting a way to implement Pure Edge’s work into the state’s strategic plan. “I feel strongly that incorporating mindfulness as a universal practice in our schools supports social and emotional learning,” she explained.

After Pure Edge visited the state to host the first Culture of Care training and an all-day session for educators around educator well-being, the mood changed. Lawler described educators and support staff as “more engaged and more hopeful.”

She recounted the many emails she received from educators, telling her what they had learned and how understanding basic neuroscience and mindfulness practices had impacted them.

“Throughout my life, some of my biggest cheerleaders have been family members,” Lawler shared. “My mom and grandmother have helped me think outside the box and realize that I bring a different perspective to education.”

Perhaps that support is one reason for her belief that the state must layer supports around learners through every organization that impacts youth and families, in order to strengthen the sense of family and community. Lawler and her colleagues are working to provide professional learning on trauma awareness for all such organizations. The work of the Wilmington Advisory Council on Youth Gun Violence, for instance, resulted in a handbook for fostering connection, protection and respect in afterschool programs, community centers and other youth-serving organizations. The goal is to engage everyone from bus drivers and facilities employees to hospital systems and faith-based organizations. The team of course seeks to build capacity within the Department of Education, but the vision expands much further, aiming to create learning opportunities that inspire districts to implement mindfulness and make it part of their own practices.

“We realized it doesn’t just stop with us,” stated Lawler. “Schools cannot do this work alone.”

And what will be the ultimate outcome of implementing mindfulness practices in schools through partnership with organizations like Pure Edge? “We believe we will build more resilient children,” she said, “and ultimately more resilient families and communities.”

Pure Edge, Inc. and Health World, Inc. Have Forged a Partnership

The quest to create a world where all are empowered to live their healthiest lives doesn’t stop at healthy bodies.

Through a mutual belief in the importance of supporting healthy minds and a shared passion for learner well-being, Pure Edge, Inc. (PEI) and Health World, Inc. have forged a partnership. Health World, led by President Peter Rusin, centers its vision around reducing barriers to health education and expanding health literacy. The organization has chosen to provide further support to schools through offering PEI’s free social and emotional learning resources through its website. At www.healthworldeducation.org/pure-edge-brain-breaks, educators and schools are invited to sign up for Pure Brain Breaks, simple and effective strategies to alleviate stress and calm overstimulated minds.

PEI’s Five Principles of Health & Wellness—body, breath, mind, attention and engagement—contribute to a comprehensive health education and the development of social and emotional competencies. Health World’s existing offerings include digital health education programs for elementary and middle school, as well as courses on bullying and conflict resolution and social-emotional health and diversity, among others. PEI is proud to support Health World’s suite of affordable and accessible programs, as well as its ability to increase health literacy nationwide.

 

 

P.E. Teachers Join Pure Edge Team to Present Mindful Movement, Neuroscience of Stress and Simple Strategies at SHAPE America Convention

The Society of Health and Physical Educators, better known as SHAPE America, aims to provide programs and resources to achieve health and physical literacy for all children. Pure Edge & SHAPE America have partnered for a three-year engagement at both national and regional conferences. Most recently, the Pure Edge team with the help of two health and wellness champions from our partner districts, presented two sessions at SHAPE America’s National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Teachers Lisa Hayden and Edwina Soto joined Gill McClean and Anne Contreras to lead participants in mindful movement, the neuroscience of stress and simple strategies for educators and students.

Pure Edge has worked with over 25,000 educators across the U.S., and we have met incredible teachers. Edwina Soto has been a champion since 2016 and has added great insight and authenticity to the sessions. Lisa Hayden joined for the first time in April 2019. “Lisa was so well-prepared and[…]she made me feel like I should be in her classroom on a daily basis,” Edwina shared. Both educators shared their real-world experiences as teachers in physical education settings and hoped to empower others to bring Pure Edge’s mindfulness tools back to their schools.

“Edwina got to share her actual experiences as a teacher and speak with teachers who weren’t sure about how to motivate their students.” Lisa believes that providing a foundation rooted in the neuroscience of stress and the ways mindfulness impacts the mind and body are key to engaging educators. Anne Contreras explained, “Having our guest P.E. teachers present with us has helped our audiences know that SEL implementation has already been taking place and that these specific instructors have also had personal transformation because of being involved in the process.”

At Pure Edge, we provide knowledge and resources, but the real impact comes from educators putting their new skills to use in their classrooms. “Train the mind and the body will follow,” said Lisa. “[P.E. teachers] are always thought of as body-first, and I think we have to shift that. Everything ties together.” Edwina expanded on the importance of making knowledge and resources accessible and easy to implement. “Pure Edge provides a road map for teachers to follow,” she stated. “That means even the least confident educator will be capable of providing standards-aligned lessons for learners.”

This work can impact educators just as much as students. Edwina summed up her experience with Pure Edge with a quotation by L.R. Knost: “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” She has been open about how her participation in our educator self-care training helped her to understand her emotions in a new way, and how this has transformed her into an even better teacher. “After some self-reflection and self-care, I was able to approach my students with a different perspective on class management and help them identify and deal with their emotions.”

NJ School Districts: Building Resilience Through Integrated SEL Strategies

How can a school district ensure a rigorous academic environment without allowing high expectations to negatively impact its students? The competitive and demanding nature of today’s schools is unlikely to change, but districts can and do choose to equip students with tools to help manage stress and to ultimately develop strategies to ward off the increased anxiety that can lead to depression. Dr. Maurice Elias, Professor of Psychology at Rutgers University, stated that:

“In the schools, we have the ability to create trauma-free environments, and that’s what our kids deserve.”

New Jersey’s West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District (WWPRSD) in Mercer County is doing just that: working collaboratively with student leaders, local agencies and community supporters on a comprehensive set of tools to create trauma-free schools. According to Superintendent Dr. Dave Aderhold, in the past few years, the young people of the Mercer County have experienced “an escalation of suicidal ideation and mental health concerns.” In a community-wide Call to Action, the superintendents of Mercer County held a forum where over 700 parents and community members attended.

The Pure Edge team partnered with the district to offer professional development to educators and student athletes. WWPRSD has since maintained an impressive level of energy and engagement around our trainings and has started to train its own staff. We have also had the privilege of meeting many brilliant kids who recognize the need to manage high stress levels and want to learn and share mindfulness skills. The students in a group called NüYü 2.0 aim to promote mindfulness for themselves and their classmates. Phanisree A., a student active in the group, shared, “Protecting your mental health is just as important as protecting your physical health. You need to understand the basis of empathy, the basis of SEL, and we can create valuable relationships going forward.” Social studies teacher Joe Bossio noted the high standards to which WWPRSD students are held and explained, “Lofty [expectations] are good until they can become potentially toxic.” This truth begs the question of how to foster academic success without sacrificing students’ mental health and how to center students’ well-being without compromising performance in school. At Pure Edge, we believe the answer lies in educating the whole child, and our mission is to provide the free resources to impact as many students as possible.

A popular approach to youth suicide prevention centers anti-bullying as the solution. However, a holistic approach understands that youth suicide cannot be attributed to a single cause. The National Violent Death Data Reporting System analyzed data on suicides of youth ages 11 to 15 and found that from 2003 to 2014, only 9 percent of cases cited bullying as a causal factor. However, over half of cases identified relationship issues as a factor leading to suicide, and over half also noted that the youth had mental health struggles. In 60 percent of cases, multiple causes were found. The many challenges faced by youth can compound and lead to terrible results. To educators and administrators like those in Mercer County, a whole-child approach is the most desirable model for suicide prevention.

Cranbury School District, also in New Jersey, has identified the need for a whole-child perspective as well. Board of Education President Karen Callahan shared that the district has noticed children “exhibiting signs of stress and anxiety at an earlier age.” After witnessing Pure Edge’s presentation on the neuroscience of stress at a national conference, Cranbury enlisted our help in bringing mindfulness practices to its students. We began working with school counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and P.E. teachers. Those staff members are now incorporating the practices they have learned into their own lives and sharing their knowledge with students. Counselor Joann Charwin described Pure Edge as

“Really our introduction at Cranbury School to mindful movement, breathing and rest.” She added, “I think it has changed the lives of our teachers and students a great deal.”

 

Ministry of Public Education (MEP) Costa Rica

Location: Costa Rica

 Potential Impact: 70,000 teachers, 100,000 total staff, 1,000,000 students

Website: https://www.mep.go.cr/

 

The Ministry of Public Education (MEP) is the largest employer in Central America. When the new government instituted fiscal reforms for all public sectors in the spring of 2018, it triggered the largest mass strikes of public employees in Costa Rican history. Teachers were on strike for 89 days, thus forcing the closure of all public schools and the loss of education and jeopardizing of the future of every young person in the country. After meeting with the MEP, we were asked to provide the neuroscience of stress sessions to MEP employees who did not strike and continued to serve communities. Those initial sessions led to MEP requesting Pure Edge to register as an entity to conduct professional development in Costa Rica.

As of February 2019, Pure Edge is now registered as a non-governmental agency in the country and able to offer our services.

The school system educates nearly 1 million children and youth. With over 4,000 schools across the nation, this partnership is a unique opportunity to incorporate social and emotional learning and mindfulness country-wide.