BCS Advantage Magazine Winter 2017 - Page 9

The True Meaning of the Compassionate Schools Model By David Thompson, Director of Student Services One afternoon this past summer, Johnston Elementary faculty went to a nearby playground to hand out popsicles and play with children who have been affected by violence in their community. At Community High, teachers and staff are learning wellness skills that will help students be able to handle the chronic stress they experience day-to-day. The school counselor at Fairview Elementary works with groups of students on a play that teaches the benefits of knowing behavior triggers and using mindful practices. Walk into many BCS classrooms and you will see calm zones with sensory tools for students to use to reset the brain for learning. We all want our children enrolled in schools that are caring, compassionate, and sensitive to the needs of individual students. We often hear an emphasis on academic achievement and teaching the whole child, but we know that stressed brains cannot learn. The Compassionate Schools initiative in Buncombe County Schools is a whole child approach that provides a framework for understanding how chronic stress and trauma impacts students’ ability to learn, function socially, and respond to certain events that they perceive to be stressful. In a compassionate school, the staff responds to behaviors caused by chronic stress as an opportunity to teach sensory self-awareness. It provides students a structured way to self-regulate their behavior and return to the learning environment. Teachers know that students cannot meet academic goals until their more basic physical and emotional needs are met. However, this does not mean that students are not held to high academic standards. A most basic compassionate practice is ensuring that all students have the supportive learning environment where they can achieve at the highest level. In addition to Compassionate Schools, all elementary students are using an evidence-based Social/Emotional Learning curriculum called Second Step. The core of the SEL program is to teach problem-solving, relationship building, self-regulation, and conflict resolution. All of these skills are then integrated into a bullying prevention curriculum. Teachers using this curriculum are reporting that there are significant differences in the quality of social interaction of their students, as well as better ability to maintain attention and learn more effectively. 7