Close Social-Emotional Learning at ACDS: update and FAQs - Aspen Country Day School


Close Social-Emotional Learning at ACDS: update and FAQs

February 19, 2019

Parents all over the world seek a safe educational environment for their children — one that extends beyond physical safety to the social-emotional lives of children. Aspen Country Day School teachers believe that children learn best when they feel safe and engaged, supported and challenged, known and loved.

Our longstanding commitment to the well being of students is flourishing these days with a renewed focus on social-emotional learning.

Mindfulness plays a major role in social-emotional learning at Aspen Country Day School. Growing numbers of teachers, parents, and children are reaping the benefits that come from learning to lead a more mindful life. Defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” mindfulness can help children regulate stress, increase their focus and self regulation, and improve their academic performance and capacity for joy. 

Here are some updates about the mindfulness and social-emotional learning program at ACDS!

“Does Country Day still do MindUP?”

Many of our teachers have been trained in the MindUP curriculum and continue to use many of the practices such as brain breaks in our classes. Most recently, ACDS teachers across the grades have been trained in specific programs that take proven mindfulness techniques, along with additional strategies for social-emotional well being, and apply them more broadly to the PreK-Eighth Grade environment here at ACDS. These two programs are Responsive Classroom, which is used throughout the Lower School program, and Developmental Designs, which is a curriculum that guides our Advisory program in Middle School.

What does mindfulness practice look like at Country Day?

Mindfulness at ACDS is not simply about reflective practice and connecting with each other in a meaningful way. Mindfulness is also deeply embedded in the academic curriculum. For instance, when teachers ask children to choose an historical character to research in the Third Grade Changemakers history project — and also ask the students to analyze how that person’s character shaped his or her achievements — this is a chance for students to reflect on what interests them and what values they admire. When they take out their Outdoor Education journals on their trips to write and reflect, this is an act of mindfulness.

     Even the beginning practices of independence in Kindergarten all circle back to social-emotional learning.  As Amy Saltzman, M.D., director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education notes, “Mindfulness strengthens underlying development processes—such as focus, resilience, and self-soothing—that will help kids in the long run.”

What specifically happens to promote a healthy community and mindfulness at ACDS?

Once a week, Lower School Counselor Mary Stokes runs class meetings in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade. Activities in these weekly 45-minute periods range from MindUP practices, to hands on activities focusing on our school-wide monthly themes, to fostering a safe place for children to share what is on their minds through conflict resolution, to emotional regulation, and learning pro-social skills. Mindfulness is something we infuse not only through reflective practice but also in the way we approach lessons, projects, and interactions with each other.  Mindfulness is also front-and-center in the Middle School Advisory program, where each small advisory group starts the day together as in the photo below.

What’s next for mindfulness and social-emotional learning at Country Day?

The social-emotional health of both our students and faculty is something we continue to foster through professional development for teachers and classroom practices. We recently brought one of the world’s top experts in Social-Emotional Learning to campus for an in-depth observation of our SEL program. It was an honor to have Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichel observe and provide recommendations about how ACDS can continue to foster the well being of our school community. The school is now staffed with a Lower School Counselor (Mary Stokes) and a Middle School Counselor (Morgan Henschke). This talented team brings a unified approach to deepening the social-emotional learning opportunities at Country Day. Aspen Country Day believes strongly that fostering the social-emotional health of our students is an essential element of the educational journey.