Heart-Mind in Schools: Part 2 Q&A With Franklin Elementary School

Thanks to the enormous dedication of our Project Coordinator Jennifer Westoby, Heart-Mind Champions and other school staff, along with the support of the Vancouver Foundation and the Edith Lando Foundation, our Heart-Mind in Schools Project is now complete. Pilot schools were given a 4-part Social Emotional Learning (SEL) workshop series, offering staff members evidence-informed, practical guidance on how to infuse SEL and Heart-Mind Well-being into their school’s culture. Sir John Franklin Elementary, located in Vancouver, was among the school pilot sites. As COVID-19 restrictions are finally lifting following a very difficult school year, Sally Ruus, Franklin’s Heart-Mind Champion, reflects on Franklin's school's experience as a Heart-Mind School during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is Part 2 of a 3 part series.

1. What are some of the unique challenges that your student body at Franklin faced this past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how did your involvement as a Heart-Mind in School help to address those challenges?

“With COVID-19, this year was an extremely challenging one for everyone. Unique to this past year, students and families at our school were feeling a lack of community and connection. Where normally our parents are welcome in the school and participate in a wide range of events, they were not even able to enter the building. Our new kindergarteners in particular did not experience the same secure sense of transition between home to school that is typical, such as through home visits, gradual entry, and family reading time in classrooms. Families were not able to get together and strengthen students’ friendships and connections. With so much change and so much unknown, we saw a significant increase in students’ feelings of isolation and anxiety.

We found that the teachings of Heart-Mind in Schools were especially important this past year in counteracting these feelings. For example, teachers used a stronger emphasis on Secure and Calm this year to help students recognize these negative feelings and use strategies to manage them. Through newsletters, parent emails, and virtual conferences, we also encouraged parents to use the Heart-Mind Well-Being Framework to help manage feelings of isolation and anxiety at home.”
 
2. What strategies did you use to foster a sense of belonging and connection at Franklin during periods of physical distancing? 

“It was very challenging to have the same sense of school community with the COVID-19 restrictions. However, students and staff found some ingenious ways to make it work. It began last year during the school closures. Though students were at home, they connected regularly online with their teachers, not only through formal lessons but through informal check-in times that allowed them to chat and share their ideas and experiences from home. Students really craved that connection and were always excited to show their new puppy or a piece of art they had just made! While learning online, teachers found little ways to build a sense of community; for example, we painted stones with messages of hope and put them around the community, and encouraged students to bang pots at 7pm and put teddy bears in their windows.

Since the schools were reopened it was still hard to keep whole-school events happening, but we are proud of what we accomplished! Our online check-ins with home learners continued, as well as regular email updates and online assemblies that include everyone. Our kindergarten teachers, principal and support staff worked together to hold a successful virtual Welcome to Kindergarten event, which we hope helped our new kindergarten families feel secure and calm about starting school. Our students really missed many of our traditional Franklin events, and took the initiative to organize many COVID-safe alternatives. For example, students planned and executed a virtual Lego Day event, with home and in-person learners alike encouraged to build a Lego creation and submit photos. An art contest with a similar format led to a beautiful K-7 art display in our front hallway. We also enjoyed several school-wide dress-up theme days, from wacky hair day to pajama day! These fun events helped continue a sense of connection between all of us.”

Franklin's Wall of Kindness is a strong demonstration of their culture of caring and belonging as a Heart-Mind School.

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