Robert Ogilvie: The Story of a Northern Heart-Mind School

Thanks to the generous support of the Vancouver Foundation and the Edith Lando Foundation, our Heart-Mind in Schools Project is in its third and final year. Throughout the Project, nine Heart-Mind schools in total have participated in four specialized Social Emotional Learning (SEL) workshops aimed at fostering system-wide SEL through the lens of the Heart-Mind Well-Being Framework, while receiving guidance and implementation support along the way. 

Robert Ogilvie, a K-6 elementary school located in the Northern BC community of Fort St. John, is one of these Heart-Mind Schools. Funded as an inner city school by the Ministry of Education and with a transient student population, Robert Ogilvie rises to the challenges its students face by providing comprehensive support, including lunch and breakfast programs, counselling, an Aboriginal Student Support worker, and various education assistants.

Ensuring that students’ basic needs are met, as well as taking a trauma-informed approach towards learning, is an integral part of how Robert Ogilvie nurtures its students' needs, and SEL has long been at the heart of the school’s culture. According to Josie Gauthier, who has taught at Robert Ogilvie for 21 years, while SEL is not new to staff, the Heart-Mind in Schools program has offered a “map” to what was previously an “unpaved” landscape, providing them with the tools, shared terminology, and guidance to navigate SEL with greater ease and togetherness.

This past year, the school encountered significant hurdles: 110 students moved to a new school, and there was an usually high amount of staff turnover, layered on top of the “usual” challenges that COVID-19 has more universally posed. As Karen Gonzales, Robert Ogilvie’s principal, shared, the process of stewarding a cohesive and connected school culture has been like “rebuilding a city”. It has been especially imperative this past year to focus on student mental health, because as Gonzales remarks, “all students are vulnerable at this time”, not just the ones typically considered as such.

Fittingly, Robert Ogilvie revised its School Expectation Matrix to “ROARR” (Respectful - Organized - Accountable - Responsible) to include one final and critical “R”: Resilient. The strategies and tools the Heart-Mind in Schools Project has provided–resources like 5 Practices for Presence & Peace, Inspired by Neuroscience–compliment Robert Ogilvie’s emphasis on resilience well. Heart-Mind Online resources are also sent in monthly newsletters home with students, helping to build continuity in SEL from school to home.

Integrating Heart-Mind Well-Being into their school’s Matrix has, as Gauthier notes, made it more permissible for educators to weave meditation breaks throughout the school day as needed, knowing with confidence that students need to feel comfortable and calm in order to learn. With 28% of the school community comprising those with aboriginal ancestry, fostering culturally relevant learning environments is also a key component of Robert Ogilvie’s ethos. In Gauthier’s classroom, for example, she divides the class into groups of different Indigenous territories. Each territory names themselves, and is assigned a Chief, who is responsible for taking care of their people, ensuring that students have proper supplies, resources are shared, and that any disputes are resolved. Through this Indigenous lens of learning in action, Gauthier emphasizes the importance of the qualities of the Heart-Mind Well-Being Framework: Solves Problems Peacefully, Gets Along With Others, Compassionate & Kind, Alert & Engaged, and Secure & Calm. We are grateful to Robert Ogilvie for sharing their unique and inspiring journey as a Heart-Mind School, and wish them continued success!



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