Monday, March 18, 2019

Social-Emotional Health & a Challenge Success Update

This blog post covers mental health and the social-emotional well-being of our kids, and it is an update on the efforts and initiatives on this very topic including an update on Challenge Success.  The Challenge Success Committee wants your input, and I encourage you to read this post before completing the survey, but I provide the link for ease of access. 

Throughout the last few months we, as a staff, have focused on the social-emotional well-being of our students.  Always an emphasis, evidenced by our K-12 Mental Health team that spans years of work, but the recent intense focus is a result of national trends of which CCHS is not immune.  In January, DESE consultants presented to staff on challenges for LGBTQ students and to discuss best practices for our faculty.  In February, our mental health team presented to the faculty with a focus on the following.
  • General Mental Health & Wellness
  • Mental Health National Statistics 
  • CCHS Data
  • Colleagues Sharing Current Challenges & Experiences
  • Best Practices For CCHS
In March, we continued the work by answering questions solicited from staff before the meeting.  Our mental health team responded to questions, shared strategies currently employed by CCHS staff members building community effectively in their classes, and we shared department-specific resources to help embed social-emotional practices into class lessons.  

I provide this brief overview to inform students and the community that we are aware of both the national and local state of affairs when it comes to critical social-emotional challenges particularly anxiety and depression. Also, I share this information because educating the whole child and addressing the alarming trends among teens is a community effort that will require dialogue and close collaboration.  Never has the adage, "it takes a village..." been more true, and I invoke the words of British author, Mary Midgley, "we are not only one but also many."  An appropriate quote for this topic.

This topic is overwhelming for anyone dealing with its intensity, be it at home with a child or living it every day in a school setting, and the work begins with the recognition that no one person has the answers to a problem so dynamic and complex, and the answers and solutions are not easy. If solutions were readily accessible the national and local statistics would be dimmed and less stark.  

I suggest, limiting phone usage is a good start, but I recommend better than I enforce as over my left shoulder as I type resides a 13-year-old daughter buried deep into her screen.  I share a video worth watching on this very topic.  I would watch it with your children and share it with anyone who has one. 

Look Up | Gary Turk - Official Video

This I know, if we talk about the social-emotional well-being of our students we are infinitely more likely to find solutions than if it is treated with silence and the hope it merely fades away.  

I certainly do not have this figured out despite my experience as a father and 11 years as a principal, but a few practices worth sharing.  At home, I ask my children about their day before diving into the results of the math quiz, I praise effort far more than results, and long ago I recall reading the most critical nine minutes with your children each day is the first three in the morning when they wake, the first three when they return from school, and the last three before bedtime.  I try to make those positive interactions. 

The recent college admissions scandal caught me by surprise, yet I am shocked; I was actually surprised. The scandal provides an excellent opportunity to talk to our children about our own definition of success, and the quote from Challenge Success captures it succinctly. 

"We can do better by our students, not just by changing college admissions to be more equitable, but by changing the narrative around success and scarcity in our culture. There are many kinds of success, and many roads to get there. If our definition of success costs us the health, well-being, engagement, and emotional development of our children, or our own personal ethics, we should reconsider that definition."

Reflections on a College Admissions Scandal: A Teachable Moment

Lastly, after the March faculty meeting, all departments left with three commitments to help address mental health in their classrooms.  Small, incremental steps that might be the antidote needed if we adopt the mindset of, we are not just one but many.  

Please read on for an update on our Challenge Success program.  

 Challenge Success Update

Through the gracious generosity of the Concord Education Fund, our partnership with Challenge Success (CS) and Stanford University began in 2015.  This partnership and the resulting noble work continues. I want to thank all students, staff, parents, and community members who have participated in our Challenge Success initiative, be it committee work or helping to organize events associated with Challenge Success.  

It is important to recognize that being a teenager in 2019 is difficult and educating students in the 21st century is challenging.  As stated in the Challenge Success mission statement, "Embracing a broad definition of success...." while promoting "student well-being and engagement with learning," requires a collaborative approach, community-wide approach to educating students while nurturing their well-being.  As the adage goes, "it takes a village."

The impetus for partnering with the Challenge Success program is multi-dimensional, but after reading their mission statement in full, it is not hard to see why.  Further, CCHS was one of the first local schools to partner with CS, and the list of schools participating has grown to include several nearby towns since our journey began in 2015.  

Immediately below is a list of Challenge Success driven changes between 2016 - 2018.  Also, I include two additional changes we plan to implement immediately to help alleviate stress around specific pressure points in the school year.  To summarize these changes, we add a few no school-work weekends resulting in one weekend a month of no homework.  Further, we are instituting reading days before exams so students can focus solely on their assessments.    

2019 Challenge Success High School Staff Committee Members
Madeleine Pooler, Amy Byron, Michael Mastrullo, Iolanda Volpe, Brian Miller, Tom Keane, Ray Pavlik, Amy Byron, Ashley Cohane, Dan Simone, Alison Nowicki, Lisa Koski, Robin Cicchetti, Kristen Herbert, & Ingrid Sutter

Action Plan based on consensus during 2019 Challenge Success Meetings
2019 Challenge Success Plans
Immediately Implemented

I) Reading Period
Similar to standard practices in college, we are implementing a two-day reading period before final exams.  The purpose of a reading period is to allow students time to review, prepare, and make connections before their final assessments.  Classes are in session, and the expectation is students will attend.  

During the reading period, new material cannot be introduced, no assessments and no major projects may be due. Time will be allocated for the review of course material in preparation for the exam, or dedicated class time to work on final projects/presentations/papers.

Rationale: Feedback from students, parents, and several staff members were consistent.  End of quarter/semester assignments coupled with preparation for exams produced an unmanageable workload.  (Acton Boxborough, Dover Sherborn, and Westford Academy have reading periods in place.)

II) Homework
Continue to implement a homework-free weekend each month.  Adding one at the end of each quarter, Kicks for Cancer, and one for Memorial Day in May.

Both the district strategic plan and the school improvement plan include homework related initiatives.  

Italics denotes Changes for 2019 and beyond

  • September:  Kicks for Cancer weekend
  • October: End of Q 1
  • November: Thanksgiving
  • December: Winter Break
  • January: Weekend between semesters (end of Q2)
  • February: Winter vacation week
  • March: End of Q 3
  • April: April vacation
  • May: Memorial Day Weekend
During the 2018-2019 school year, we expanded the Challenge Success Committee and
identified four areas of focus that will guide our work this year and beyond.

  1. The 9th-grade transition
  2. Developing a Climate of Care
  3. Balancing Skill Development with Content
  4. Developing Systems of Coordination for long term assignments

Additional Resources

Challenge Success Mission Statement
"Challenge Success partners with schools, families, and communities to embrace a broad definition of success and to implement research-based strategies that promote student well-being and engagement with learning."

CCHS Challenge Success Vision Statement
Concord Carlisle High School is a community united in support of students’ engagement and well-being.

We consciously commit to the following.
  • To spark curiosity and excitement for the journey of the high school experience
  • To encourage balance, personal growth, and academic excellence
  • To value student voice as a respectful and compassionate community
  • To foster a community that actively challenges and redefines success to support students’ individual well-being

The Article  “How to Help Kids Embrace Stress” mentions the importance of  “making sure students can rebound between bouts of intense intellectual activity, just as athletes rest between hard workouts.”

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