What is the right balance between social-emotional health and academic challenge? We know that we cannot define our own success through our children’s success, and that our expectation for our children to be the “best” at everything can be harmful. We see the social media posts and the best-selling books about simplifying and de-stressing our lives, but often find it difficult to apply our learnings to our own children. What is the right balance? At a time when our tweens need support and guidance – whether they recognize it or not – they are now getting more of it at MBMS.
As anxiety levels in students increase across the country, the social and emotional well-being of children is getting more attention. In our own community, the district-wide initiative to focus on the social-emotional health of our students is also gaining traction. With the introduction of Mind Up in our elementary schools last year, students in grades K-5 have learned about how the different parts of their brains control emotions and their ability to focus and learn. “Brain breaks” continue to be a part of the daily routine for our children in elementary classrooms.
Recognizing that every family and every child is different, the mental and emotional health of our children is becoming more of a priority for all of us. Through support and feedback from our community, MBEF funded a new grant this school year for an additional Assistant Principal at MBMS who is focused on promoting the safety and health of our students. Margot Parker was hired for this role in August, and comes to our District with more than 20 years of experience counseling and teaching in Boston, Campbell and Palo Alto schools. She provides a deep knowledge of best practices in counseling and parent engagement. Mrs. Parker has worked with Principal Linz and Mrs. Ahrens to introduce a positive behavior system to encourage MBMS students to make healthy choices during a time of surging hormones, social and emotional insecurities, and heightened academic expectations.
Many factors were considered in promoting this shift at the middle school, including teacher, parent and student feedback. Students are offered guidelines for positive behavior in the classroom and lunch that range from appropriate school attire to technology use, as well as several other aspects of respect and responsibility. The goal is to recognize students who “Model Integrity, Be Respectful, Make Good Decisions and Solve the Problem (MBMS).” While some changes were not initially welcomed by students, the administrative trio is starting to see some positive shifts. When Ms. Linz recently asked students how they would like to be rewarded, most opted for a longer lunch instead of a tech lunch. This is a positive indication that students would prefer more time to be together than be on a device.
Mrs. Parker is already considered to be an asset to the campus. As Mrs. Linz recently stated in a communication to parents, “Our students want to do the right thing and we need to ensure they know what that looks like. Mrs. Parker has helped to create a structure for our students to feel safe, secure and know the expectations at MBMS.” With two extraordinary assistant principals at her side and a team of guidance and support counselors, Mrs. Linz feels well prepared to arm the students with strategies they will use through high school and into their adult lives. This year, new MBMS students will participate in the CASEL-accredited Second Step Program (http://www.casel.org/guideprogramssecond-step/) to provide them with tools and strategies to successfully navigate the middle school years.
MBMS staff recently participated in professional development to learn more about how the teenage brain works. All MBMS counselors and Mrs. Ahrens attended the recent California Association of School Counselors (CASC) to learn about best practices in counseling. Day-to-day disciplinary needs are now handled by all three administrators, freeing up the counselors to serve the academic and emotional needs of students. This separation of roles ensures Counselors can counsel without compromising the trust of students.
MBMS is also supporting parents, working with Families Connected to create a network specifically for MBMS families. MBMS Families Connected provides a central source of information on health and wellness, including ways to prevent alcohol and drug use, deal with stress and anxiety, and suggestions for navigating social media and technology. In partnership with Families Connected, Mrs. Parker is facilitating a Book Club in which parents come together for presentations and small group discussions. The first book discussed was Mindset by Carol Dweck – view the presentation here. The next book is Planet Middle School by Dr. Kevin Leman scheduled for Thursday, December 1st from 8:15-9:30am in the MBMS MPR. Space is unlimited but you must register to attend. In addition, look for monthly opportunities to have coffee with the counselors and join MBMS’ Social-Emotional Committee in the electronic newsletter, the Weekly Wave.
Teachers, parents and students are feeling the shift at MBMS – a shift in a positive direction that considers the emotional health of our children and builds a foundation for the years to come. Our Newsletter next month will focus on what MBEF grants are doing to support social emotional health at Mira Costa. Stay tuned….