Spul'u'kwuks Elementary: Creating Silver Linings as a Heart-Mind School

Made possible by the Vancouver Foundation and the Edith Lando Foundation, our Heart-Mind in Schools Project is in the home stretch of its third and final year. Nine pilot schools have been given a 4-part Social Emotional Learning (SEL) workshop series along with support to implement their learnings, offering staff members evidence-informed, practical guidance on how to infuse SEL and Heart-Mind Well-Being into their school’s culture.

Located in Richmond, Spul'u'kwuks Elementary is one such Heart-Mind School. With half of its students being English Language Learners (ELL), Spul'u'kwuks is a particularly culturally diverse school. In valuing that diversity, the school takes great care to build a community that emphasizes the importance of building relationships, and honours the uniqueness of each student. Introducing the 5 qualities of the Heart-Mind Well-Being Framework–Solves Problems Peacefully, Gets Along With Others, Secure & Calm, Alert & Engaged, and Compassionate & Kind–and teaching the social and emotional skills that allow students to embody those qualities is integral to the ongoing process of deepening students’ connection with others, and to themselves as unique individuals.

Learning a new language can challenge anyone’s confidence. As Elaine Stapleton, the principal at Spul'u'kwuks shared, a focus on confidence building is especially vital to their students. Nurturing the quality of “Compassionate & Kind”, and being kind not only to others, but also self-compassionate towards themselves, is key to students’ development. Students are encouraged to identify their unique strengths and take positive risks, with creative approaches such as “I am” positive quality art collages, and an “I tried” risk taking wall.

Creating a school culture that actively instills the quality of Secure & Calm has helped to establish an environment in which students feel capable of taking such risks with less fear of failure, as does a friendly and supportive environment school-wide. Each classroom, for instance, has distinctive mindfulness strategies that they use during transition periods, such as a chime or music. To help them calm down, particularly when faced with conflict, students are taught different methods of breathing, and to recognize physical feelings in themselves associated with strong emotions. Giving students the skills to strengthen their “Gets Along With Others” quality has noticeably helped to build a cohesive and caring school community.

In spite of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic this year, students have come together to show their support for each other in creative and profound ways. Led by Grade 6 & 7 classes taught by “Heart-Mind Champions” Paige Zarazun and Susan Shackles, the school had a school-wide fundraiser for a former student who was seriously injured in a car accident and is unable to walk, to help raise money for him to have specialized driving lessons. One student sold scrunchies she made by hand, with the proceeds going to the fundraiser. Students purchased them and wore them at school, a symbol of their solidarity and care for their school community. Engaging in service for another person allowed students’ strengths to shine through, and their sense of self-worth to blossom, as Elaine noticed.

Sadly, the school recently had reason to embark on another fundraising initiative, this time for a primary student who was diagnosed with cancer. “Coins for Chloe”, with proceeds going to BC Children’s Hospital, has united the school together towards a common cause. This time, the Grade 6 and 7’s are mentoring the primary students on the art of fundraising, bringing together two groups of students who might not otherwise interact.

While it can be easy during the pandemic to focus on hardship, Spul'u'kwuks has found ways to create rays of silver lining within difficult situations, by prioritizing what matters: the Heart-Mind well-being of their school community and the relationships that nurture it.


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