Uncertainty can be paralyzing, provoke fear and anxiety and result in many unanswered questions. Despite the overwhelming amount of uncertainty that abruptly entered the lives of educators (and so many others) due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, opportunities were seized, risks were taken, creativity and innovation arose and problems were solved. However, as soon as one challenge was tended to, a handful of new, complex challenges were waiting to be addressed.
One of the overarching themes of uncertainty that continued to come up in conversation amongst educators, was what returning to school would be like; the “when,” the “how,” the “if,” and the “what” were often discussed. From early on, most recognized that whatever the answer to the former questions, for better or worse, it would simply not be the same. Many educators also agreed that securing a sense of physical and psychological safety for all staff and students, would be critical, yet, would not be an easy task and could take several weeks or months to achieve.
The conversation around “re-entry” became a frequent, recurring one within the weekly remote PD session for school counselors, social workers and psychologists. The collective passion and emotion present in each conversation led the group to take action and create a guidance entitled “Social and Emotional Recommendations for a Healthy Re-Entry,” for school districts to reference as they navigate re-entry planning. Although there were a number of unanswered questions and remaining uncertainties, the group agreed upon critical considerations for a healthy re-entry. Margaret Wheatley once said, “It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”
If you are interested in learning more about actionable recommendations for meeting the SEL needs of staff and students and supporting a healthy re-entry, please consider joining us on August 3rd, for one of our summer PD opportunities, “Back to School: SEL Transition Conversation.”
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
Leaders play a critical role in the implementation of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools. As a reminder, there are 5 competencies of SEL, they are as follows; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision making. Several leaders from around the region gathered on March 10th to spend the day with Dr. Maurice Elias of Rutgers University to learn about just how significant their role is in the task of prioritizing and expanding SEL in our area schools.
Although SEL has been an educational priority for decades, attention to such learning has increased a great deal recently. Why? One reason is the mounting scientific evidence that proposes that SEL skills play a vital role in success in school and life beyond school, including one’s ability to understand and manage their emotions. Throughout the day, school leaders reflected on the significant impact that mental health and trauma have had on their students, families and communities, as well as the urgent need for SEL within the context of the school day. Additionally, interpersonal skills are in high demand from businesses around the world. Employers want people that are able to communicate and interact well with others.
So what do school leaders need for effective SEL leadership? First and foremost, they themselves must possess or improve upon their own SEL skills and SEL leadership skills. In the words of Dr. Elias, “The future of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Social Emotional Character Development (SECD) depends more than ever on the quality of leadership within schools and school districts, both generally and as focused on SEL/SECD.” Additionally, a clear vision, an understanding of the interrelationship between school climate and SEL, a current climate assessment, the ability to manage improvement/change initiatives and finally, the ability to inspire.
Despite all of the learning that took place around the leadership role of comprehensive SEL implementation in early March, our leaders collectively realized that while we have many strengths in this area, we have work to do. No improvement initiative is simple, it cannot be remedied with a “quick fix,” it takes time and persistence. Some of the actionable goals for leaders that are vital, include, infrastructure development, school identity clarification integration, climate/culture/skills assessments, promotion of student voice, connection to existing mandates and making connections with schools/districts that are “walking the walk.”
We look forward to facilitating meaningful, collaborative experiences that center around SEL Leadership and Implementation to continue the necessary steps towards improvement. Together, we must guarantee that students are in a positive school climate and will systemically learn social-emotional competencies and character virtues essential for life, this cannot be optional.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
Defining what mental health and wellness is and isn’t can be extremely helpful in order to demystify cultural perspectives regarding this topic of interest. Katie Mendell, CABOCES Community Schools Coordinator, shared with Scio’s faculty and staff a wealth of information regarding mental health and wellness and what we can do in education to help our students. Understanding the continuum of well-being around mental health and educating the importance of the mind-body connection benefits all learners.
New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents permanently adopted a proposed amendment in May 2018 clarifying for schools what health education should include in all grades. Schools are required to: include mental health and the relationship of physical and mental health; and designed to enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity. Many school may already be incorporating these elements in their education of health, however this formalizes the new requirements in law.
Take a moment and think of a situation where you recently felt upset; What feelings did you experience? How about a situation that made you feel happy? What were you doing? Simply defined, mental health is how one thinks, feels, and acts. The spectrum of wellness on mental health ranges and often times we associate mental health with mental illness. Katie shared a wealth of information in order to demystify and redefine mental health as how we think, feel and act. Mental Illness is a diagnosable illness that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions as well as disrupts the ability to engage in daily activities.
What can we do for our students? We can begin by reviewing and assessing our current K-12 health education curricula for alignment to new mental health education requirements; build capacity and strengthen relationships between educators and pupil personnel services (school psychologist, social worker, counselor, nurse); developing school-community partnerships with mental health professionals and organizations; identify strategies to engage families and students in supporting mental health and well-being; support a school climate “Culture of Care”; and leverage partnerships and build upon existing resources to develop a sustainable infrastructure for mental health. The following cards were shared with faculty and staff and also provided to students.
By: Jessica Schirrmacher-Smith, CA BOCES Professional Development
With the start of a new school year, Community Schools hosted the inaugural, bi-annual Community and Schools Together Event. Nearly 100 educators and community partners came together on September 30th to teach, learn and collaborate with one another. The region collectively chose to focus on advancing mental health and wellness at this event. This came as no surprise, considering that 46% of children experience at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) and approximately 20% of adolescents have diagnosable mental health disorders. School and community partnerships are key to the growth and development of policies, procedures and best practices for mental health.
Dr. Liz Anderson of Binghamton University’s NYS Community Schools Technical Assistance Center welcomed the group and set the stage for the day. She discussed school and community collaboration, and reminded us that collaboration challenging, yet rewarding. “When we collaborate, we know that our strengths will be maximized, our weaknesses will be minimized and the result will be better for families, schools and communities,” said Anderson. The relationship between a community and a school is reciprocal in nature. Communities provide schools with a context and an environment that can reinforce the values, culture and learning. In addition, communities can also expand the variety of opportunities and supports available to students and families. In return, schools offer the community an enduring public institution that often serves as the “hub” of the community, especially within our rural region.
This event truly reflected the four pillars of the community schools strategy, which include, expanded learning opportunities, collaborative leadership and practices, family and community engagement, as well as, integrated student supports. A combined total of twelve breakout sessions took place throughout the day, and were facilitated by school leaders and representatives as well as community agency representatives. Sessions covered things such as family engagement, community trauma coalition, probation services and new legislation, model mentoring programs, addressing traumatic stress with restorative practices, school resource officer support, utilizing the community schools strategy in rural context, health services in school settings and substance abuse prevention and intervention services for schools.
As we move forward to begin planning the next CST event, to be held on March 23rd, we welcome schools and community partners to participate in the planning process. Our goal is to build upon the collaborative spirit that was developed during the inaugural event and increase the outcomes for our region.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
The limited English proficient population within the United States has grown over 80 percent within the last 20 years, and continues to do so. Language access programs ensure equal access to everyday programs, services and activities that schools provide, including those that impact the vital safety of the community, health and legal rights. Although the need within our particular region is not frequent, it is often urgent.
In an effort to assist our region’s school districts in meeting the needs of the whole child, and doing so efficiently and effectively, Language Line Solutions was contracted through Community Schools to provide translation and interpretation, as needed. Language Line Solutions is a proven and trusted partner in the field of language access that has been in the business for nearly 40 years, with over 25 thousand clients, including top government and healthcare sectors.
The Community Schools Service Showcase on September 24th, hosted representatives of the company to personally introduce the service. Participants learned of the specific services that are available to their districts within the contract and expanded upon the circumstances in which they might be utilized. Specific services included written translation, telephonic interpretation and video interpretation in upwards of 240 languages, inclusive of American Sign Language.
When might schools use spoken and signed interpretation? Good question. Language Line phone interpreting or Language Line InSight video interpreting might be helpful for any inbound or outbound phone calls, parent-teacher conferences, meetings with school administrators, discipline follow up, school nurse visits, new student registration meetings or special education related meetings, including Committee on Special Education (CSE) Meetings. Interpretation services are available on demand, with an average connection time of 30 seconds or less.
Written translation, would be particularly useful to overcome language barriers in various school related situations. Some examples would include, exams or tests, written Individualized Education Plans (IEP), parental consent notices, progress reports, parent handbooks, medical authorization forms and other general notices. Once a district has a document translated, they own that document and are able to reproduce such documents as needed, for example, parent handbooks.
Community Schools will be working with Language Line Solutions to host a virtual informational meeting later this fall. Please look for an announcement or contact Katie Mendell at Kathryn_mendell@caboces.org for more information.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 1 in every 5 of American children and adolescents under the age of 18, have a mental health disorder. We also know that anxiety is the number one mental health diagnosis impacting children and adolescents. The second leading cause of death for our children and adolescents is 100% preventable, that cause of death is suicide. The high school students in the Natural Helpers program at Cattaraugus-Little Valley took initiative to raise awareness on mental health and wellness in their school. Initially, the students approached their administration with some of their ideas and were approved to plan one half of the school day to host an event. However, after the preliminary planning meeting, students approached the administration with their vision for the day and were granted an entire school day for the event. This decision sent students the message that they matter, their mental health matters and their wellness is of top priority to the CLV School District. With support from teachers, administrators and Community Schools, the students were able to obtain keynote speakers, nearly 30 experts from the community and the region to volunteer their time and host 24 various workshops for students to attend the day of the event!
Strive to Thrive took place at CLV on Monday, May 20th. All high school students attended two keynote presentations, one at the beginning of the day and another at the end. Students pre-registered for 4 of the 24 workshop sessions that were offered throughout the day.
The day began with all students gathered together to hear keynote speaker(s), Nels Ross, and his son Noah, of In Jest Entertainment. The duo focused on a critical message of resilience, intrinsic value and the potential that lies within everyone. They did so while balancing, juggling and having fun. Much of their message highlighted physical, mental and social health. In addition to the morning keynote, the duo held their own workshop, and were able to explore resilience and wellness with smaller groups of students. Within their workshop, students could use scarves, peacock feathers, beanbags and other props to learn how to juggle. Students learned that juggling helps to develop the area of their brain that is used to practice life skills such as resiliency and goal setting, as well as to complete academic tasks such as reading and writing.
Workshops included; Yoga, Apps to Cope and Heal, Archery, Hiking, Creative Expression, Therapeutic Animals, Breakout Room, Mental Health, Restorative Circles, Mindfulness, Holistic Healthy Living, Fly Fishing, Journaling, Look Good & Feel Good (haircuts/nails), LGBTQ & Inclusive Schools, Character Building, Drumming, Empathy with Technology, Mind-Body Connection, Wildlife with Will and a Fitness Activity & Inspirational Talk with a Cystic Fibrosis Warrior. The workshop presenters included teachers from within the district, university professors, social workers, trauma therapists, yoga instructors, Directions in Independent Living representatives, life coaches, wildlife experts, fitness trainers, CA BOCES staff specialists, YMCA program directors and hair stylists.
Each of the workshops contained an underlying theme of self-care, cultivating positive coping skills and the importance of the mind-body connection. As students navigated through the day, they were able to reflect upon their own strengths as well as needs. During the four alternating workshops, students reported things such as, “I learned about things I typically wouldn’t learn about,” and, “I learned that I am not alone, and other people are experiencing the same things as me.” One student said, “It was nice to have a break and think positively without anything to worry about.”
At the end of the day, students gathered together as a group for the afternoon keynote speaker, Sarah Haykel, certified life coach and founder of Salsa for the Soul. Sarah uses creative expression to promote healthy relationships, resiliency, self-esteem and community building. Haykel guided students on a pathway to their innate value, worth, creativity and talents. Her presentation utilized movement to emphasize the mind-body connection. Haykel also held hosted workshops throughout the day.
The Natural Helpers at Cattaraugus Little Valley chose to respond to the staggering statistics on child and adolescent mental illness, by raising awareness and promoting self-care. Approximately 80% of students reported that Strive to Thrive was a positive, meaningful day. We look forward to learning about the many other approaches to raising awareness and promoting wellness in schools across the region.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
On March 11th, over 100 local educators, administrators and community leaders gathered at the Restorative Practices Symposium to explore, learn and experience from experts and practitioners in the field. The event was organized in response to the increasing interest in restorative practices in the region. The morning consisted of a keynote speaker and three practitioner presentations, while the afternoon allowed participants to experience different aspects of restorative practices based upon interest. Let’s take a look at what we learned about throughout the morning!
The keynote speaker, Dr. Tom Cavanagh of Colorado State University shared evidence and research specific to restorative practice in schools. He noted the significance of creating a culture of care using the principles and practices of restorative justice in the school environment. Dr. Cavanagh’s work with Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado was a great example of the application of a “culture of care” and related positive outcomes. Based on his research, Dr. Cavanagh concluded the implications for restorative schools include improved graduation rates, decreased discipline referrals, increased learning time and greater equity.
Deb Golley and Mollie Lapi, of CA BOCES Exceptional Education Programs spoke about the implementation process and daily practices within special education programs. They shared the reality of the 80/20 rule with restorative practices. The majority (80%) of practices are proactive, leaving the reactive practices happening much less of the time (20%). Therefore, reinforcing that restorative schools are heavily invested in practices that build relationships and community. This investment enables the responsive practices, such as conferences or corrective circles, to have greater influence and success in repairing harm and relationships when harm has occurred.
Representatives from East High School in the Rochester City School District, Dr. Lia Festenstein and Michelle Garcia offered insight into the revitalization of climate and culture in an urban school, through the implementation of restorative practices. Garcia introduced the social discipline window and noted that the ideal restorative response is a combination of high control (limit setting, discipline) and high support (encouragement, nurturing). Dr. Festenstein highlighted the process and stages of implementation and shared details of the journey from year one into year four. Finally, Dr. Festenstein spoke of the noteworthy impact that restorative practices has had at EAST. Outcomes include, a decrease in school referrals and suspensions, a decrease in the severity of school offenses and a narrowing discipline gap that disproportionately punishes students of color.
Finally, participants heard from local superintendent Lori DiCarlo. DiCarlo walked participants through the three tiers of restorative practices. She illustrated how the multi-tiered system of support aligns with the restorative practices continuum and what this looks like at Randolph Academy UFSD. For each of the three tiers, DiCarlo gave examples of what the practice looks like, how it is implemented and what the benefits are.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools Coordinator
Over the past few months, Kathryn Mendell and myself have facilitated the Mental Health Literacy forum with about 70 teachers and leaders from the region. The purpose of the Mental Health Literacy forum is to share and provide information on mental health education provided within our community and area schools. We shared guidance for developing effective mental health education for ALL students at all levels while embedding mental health well-being into the entire school environment.
The NYS Education Department expects schools to utilize the guidance documents and other resources available to adopt or develop its own district curriculum aligned with the NYS learning standards and to tailor instruction based on the school district’s identified needs at the local level. The hope is that these changes will positively impact our student’s awareness of mental health prevention, treatment and stigma.
With the expansion of mental health in schools, it is expected that school personnel, students, families and communities will more openly discuss mental health well-being.
By: Tessa Levitt, CA BOCES Professional Development
It is my belief that students do well when they can, not simply when they want to. Furthermore, students learn best when their physical, mental and emotional needs are met. This type of scenario is ideal for schools, but it is not the reality. What does it look like when a student’s needs are not met? Avoidance, distraction, disengagement, defiance, disrespect, aggression, truancy, anger and the list goes on. Educators have seen the impact of unmet student needs within their classrooms and report, that the impact is greater than ever.
The rural landscape of the Cattaraugus-Allegany Region presents a unique set of barriers that increase the complexity of existing systemic barriers for school districts, educators, students, families and communities when it comes to ensuring that all students have access to necessary resources. Despite the pressure, barriers and growing scope of student needs, is it possible to create conditions that enable every child to succeed?
Not only is it possible to create such conditions, it is necessary. This school year, with the help of 17 of our component school districts, Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES has begun the work of building the brand new Community Schools CoSer within their Instructional Support Services Division. The community schools strategy, is an exceptional, evidence-based school improvement tool that enables schools to create supportive conditions for students by sustaining an integrated focus on student support services, expanded learning opportunities, family and community engagement and collaborative leadership.
Each community school is unique and defined based upon needs and assets specific to the respective local context and community. Therefore, the Community Schools CoSer will also be unique as it grows and develops to fit the needs within the local context of our rural, regional area. In an effort to influence the region in a meaningful way, we are working collaboratively to complete a thorough assessment of needs and assets, at the district level, as well as at the regional level.
Simultaneously, while working directly with school leaders within each district, there have been ongoing opportunities to meet directly with community partners that provide supports and services to students and families. The Community Schools CoSer hosted the first Service Showcase in September, bringing community partners and school leaders together to learn about specific services available to districts. School leaders were provided more information about school based dental care, substance abuse prevention curriculum and a mentoring program. As a result, six additional districts have school-based dental services available to students and four additional districts have begun preparing to implement a mentoring program for students.
Students do well when they can. Period. Through continued collaborative work and problem solving, our region can provide all students with equitable access to resources that allow them to exceed our highest expectations.
By: Kathryn Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools