A proactive and unique approach to counseling teaches senior kindergarten – fifth-grade students life-long skills such as empathy and perseverance.
“How can our kindness ripple out into the world?” asked one student.
Fourth-grade students considered this simple yet, powerful question in their school counseling lesson while discussing the book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.
The book illustrates the ripple effect or how each small act sends ripples into the world, sparking a conversation about how students can make an impact on their community with a simple act of kindness. Students shared how donating to charities, helping their teachers in the classroom, using reusable straws, and sharing good news around campus can positively affect the world around them.
North Campus Counselor Lauren Mitchell encourages conversations like these during school counseling lessons. These discussions are a critical component of the North Campus counseling program, which promotes academic success and helps students regulate emotions and develop interpersonal skills. Mitchell works to ensure that “school counseling is for everyone” by providing programming for all students in senior kindergarten through 5th grade. Lesson topics include communication, empathy, perseverance, resiliency, and using their voices.
“Our counseling program is proactive instead of reactive. Beginning in SK, we work to empower the girls with the skill set they need to navigate friendships, communicate effectively, and understand their feelings,” shares Mitchell.
Mitchell aims to teach students how to advocate for themselves, work through challenges, and embrace mistakes. Through one-on-one interactions and small group discussions, Mitchell is able to get to know each girl and create comfortable settings where students can express themselves and ask questions.
“Every single student in fourth and fifth grade gets an intentional face-to-face interaction,” adds Mitchell. Fourth and fifth-grade students participate in Minute Meetings. During Minute Meetings, students spend a few minutes with Mitchell discussing and setting goals for the year and planning the action steps needed to reach their goals. These conversations provide each girl with a road map to learning or trying new things and overcoming obstacles to guide them as they progress in school and beyond.
The fourth and fifth grades also participate in small group lunches covering topics like organization, time management, setting boundaries, and friendship. The lunches allow students to develop new skills while connecting and learning from one another. Mitchell holds similar small group discussions with 1st-3rd-grade students.
In third grade, the curriculum incorporates the Big Life Journal as a guide in their lessons. The journal employs inspirational stories, group activities, and discussions to help the students develop perseverance and resilience. Mitchell hopes the lessons will encourage a growth mindset and thoughts like “I can’t do it yet, but I’ll keep trying,” and “I will take it one step at a time,” when learning new concepts or facing a challenge.
The students read real-life stories of people who overcame challenges, achieved a goal, or served their community. Their stories demonstrate how challenges help us grow, how to bounce back when we make mistakes, and the power of the word “yet.”
“I hope our girls are inspired to embrace mistakes, challenges, and setbacks as part of the learning process. Through these lessons, I want to instill the confidence in each girl to believe that she can do hard things and understand that dreams are achieved by the individual steps we take each day.”
This message is also reinforced by collaborations with other subjects like art and science, as well as weekly Chapel programming. “The Bridge to Caring is woven into every single lesson that I teach, Mitchell said. “I try to be very intentional about that and make a connection to one of the Bridge to Caring character traits in our lessons. For instance, I’ll teach them that it’s an example of courage when you make a mistake or face an obstacle and are able to work through it. When you say, ‘I haven’t figured this out yet, but I’m going to try a new strategy,’ that’s courageous.”
After their classroom conversation on the book Each Kindness, the 4th-grade students continued the lesson in Molly Logan’s art class. They experimented with marbling by capturing ripples on paper using water and paint. The students then created artwork with visual and written representations of how their own acts of kindness could create a ripple into the world.
“Collaborations between art and counseling evolve naturally because art, by nature, is therapeutic. I love working with Ms. Mitchell to engage the girls creatively. When we are able to reinforce the skills from each other’s classes, the girls develop deeper connections with what they are learning,” added Logan.
In a collaborative project with counseling and science, 3rd-grade students first read about an architect who created foldable cardboard houses for people experiencing homelessness. The students were then tasked with creating something out of cardboard that could help their community. They joined Applied Technology and Innovation Coordinator Meagan Michael and Mitchell in the Makerspace where they had access to an abundance of materials and tools to build their cardboard creations.
“What I love most about these projects is how they make them their own and show their personality,” Mitchell said. Each lesson, discussion, and project allows the students to think creatively and critically about the topics they cover and how they can apply them to their everyday life. For Mitchell, the most rewarding moments are when the students practice the skills and implement the strategies she teaches them.
“When a student tells me that something I taught them helped, or I hear feedback from a parent, or a teacher mentions they saw a student go into the quiet corner and practice her breathing, that is the best feeling,” she said.
Mitchell also loves how the school counseling program empowers students to initiate their own projects. This year, a group of 5th graders came up with an idea to honor the faculty and staff by establishing the Pillars of St. Mary’s award. Inspired by the Caring Turkey award, a weekly honor given to students who demonstrate one of the Bridge to Caring traits, the students felt it was important to recognize the faculty and staff members working to make St. Mary’s a better place.
“The opportunity to nominate each other and faculty and staff for these special awards encourages the girls to apply the Bridge to Caring traits in their daily lives and look for them in others,” Mitchell said. “I love that the awards offer the opportunity for them to share the good things that happen in the classrooms, lunchroom, and playground and celebrate them among our community.”
Mitchell is consistently impressed by the compassion, empathy, and curiosity demonstrated by her young students. She believes the students truly benefit from a unique approach to school counseling.
“We talk about these complex things like effort and resilience, but how do we make that applicable to an SK girl or 3rd grader? We can talk about it and have a meaningful discussion. We can also bring it to life with hands-on projects.”
- Early Childhood
- Lower School