EDITORIAL: Innovative ways to build a better school community

Area schools are going far beyond classroom learning. They are taking a more holistic approach to student well-being and making that a foundation for academic success as well as supporting overall individual growth. The approach is not just for students, but is also used to help staff keep a healthy equilibrium — all part of creating a successful school community.

Record-Journal reporter Jessica Simms recently spoke with administrators from the Meriden, Southington and Cheshire school districts to learn about programs they have implemented to help students and teachers with their day-to-day concerns.

She discovered a wide range of innovations designed to take the edge off stress and writes that “mental health continues to be a priority in area school districts as administrators implement programs and support services to help students and teachers.”

For instance, in Cheshire, programs include mindfulness practice (staying in the moment) and therapy dog visits. Another popular Cheshire program is “Cocoa and Cram” with upperclassmen helping underclassmen with test-taking strategies, Simms writes.

The Meriden school district uses the Community Health Center for behavioral health services and an online tool, “SpeakUp”, lets students easily connect to support services.

The district uses a number of techniques to help students find their way, like the “Getting to Know You” survey, given to students, that helps staff identify issues and find solutions.

“Just trying to encourage kids to participate in as many different extracurricular activities because we know that the research shows that when kids are connected to school, they do better,” said Patricia Sullivan-Kowalski, assistant superintendent of student support, in an interview with Simms.

Sullivan-Kowalski also spoke about the importance of teachers being in “a good place” and how classrooms are designed to be community spaces, “where a teacher and the students really feel that they are a community.”.

According to Simms’ story, both Meriden and Cheshire districts use Cigna as their insurance carrier, and benefits include wellness activities for staff. For example, Cigna offered yoga and pilates coaching for teachers and classrooms.

Schools also provide other opportunities for staff, such as professional development days.

Students and teachers spend a large part of their productive hours together in an environment that requires they work towards goals and, ultimately, succeed in reaching those goals. An end result of that experience should be to help young people reach their potential and be relatively well-adjusted.  Another result should be for teachers to find satisfaction in their jobs and to help them continue in their profession at the top of their game.

The enlightened thinking that underlies the direction these districts are taking is noteworthy. Creating a positive culture and supportive community in a workplace — such as a classroom — is a good bet for a successful outcome.


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