Real Stories

Real Schools – Waterside School

Real Schools – Waterside School

Waterside School  – Innovation With Parent Engagement By Rose Nisker BACKGROUND Waterside School was founded in 2001 with the goal to provide high-quality education to low-income students. When it first opened its doors, the Stamford, Connecticut independent school served 27 students. Waterside now serves over 150, operating primarily on charitable contributions as most families receive significant financial aid. The PK-5th Grade school provides rigorous academic training for students who might otherwise feed into the bleak statistics that Waterside indexes on its website– statistics reporting that low-income children typically enter kindergarten a full year and a half behind in language skills, and by fourth grade, 86% cannot read proficiently and 74% lack basic mathematical skills. Waterside’s response to the statistics is stated simply and powerfully in the call for action found on its website: “The gaps in achievement and opportunity are clear and wide and the responsibility to bridge those gaps must be shared and immediate. Many things can wait. These children cannot.” Jody Visage, Waterside’s Head of School, says “We sought out the RULER approach to ensure that our students would be available for the learning that needs to occur each day if they are going to reach their potential.” ENGAGING FAMILIES IN RULER – ASK THE EXPERTS When Waterside was ready to introduce parents to the RULER Charter, the school enlisted the help of some highly qualified experts– its students. Some of these elementary school-aged “experts” had already created and revised classroom Charters for 3 years in a row at the Stamford, Connecticut independent school. While Waterside has an enthusiastic team of teachers and administrators who educate parents about RULER tools throughout the year, everyone agreed that the students were the best candidates to take the lead in creating family Charters at home. For Waterside, the RULER Charter was already an essential part of life at school. Students and teachers check in weekly to revisit their Charter goals and assess the classroom emotional climate. Faculty and staff have their own Charter that is revised and updated every new school year. “We strive to make our Charters living, breathing documents that we all embody every day,” explains Head of School Jody Visage. “It’s not a stagnant old document that just hangs on the wall.” While home Charters seemed like a natural next step for Waterside’s community, getting every family to participate was no small feat. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that all of our parents are very hardworking and some have multiple jobs,”  says first grade teacher and RULER team member Caitlyn Bertoncin. “We’re keenly aware of the struggles they face and the demands on their time– we knew it might be a challenge to make the time to sit down and create a Charter” The school’s population is also  very  diverse  culturally,  Bertoncin points out.  “We anticipated that given the many different languages spoken and different cultural norms, the Charters would vary greatly.” Committed to making sure every family completed a Charter, Waterside teachers and administration made the assignment mandatory, like any other homework. The school sent out announcements well in advance of the due date,  making sure parents knew that the Charter was an important opportunity to build deeper connections in their families and to enhance the continuum between home and school. Classroom teachers spent several weeks preparing   read more

Real Schools – ECO Charter School

Real Schools – ECO Charter School

ECO Charter School – Innovation With Parent Engagement By Rose Nisker     BACKGROUND Founded by Antoinette C. Dendtler, Ed. D., the Environment Community Opportunity (ECO) Charter School opened its doors in September 2005 to 150 Camden, NJ elementary school students in grades K through 2. It currently serves 250 students in grades K through 5 housed in 2 school buildings. Dr. Dendtler started ECO Charter School after working for several years in private education as both a teacher and administrator, and volunteering in urban areas. Seeing the limited educational options for youth living in the environmentally-ravaged cities of the Rust Belt, Dr. Dendtler started ECO Charter School with a vision to both increase academic achievement in urban communities and encourage an interest in environmental fields. The school’s mission statement is a bold declaration of hope in the face of the difficult realities of its community; Camden has among the highest rates of poverty and violence in America. The statement reads: “Our students are the children of Camden – they will grow to become adept learners, community leaders and environmental stewards.” ECO CHARTER SCHOOL AND RULER Dendtler was first introduced to RULER at an Anchors training program at Yale in October 2013. Inspired by what she learned, she worked with her faculty and staff to set up a series of mini-pilot programs to introduce RULER concepts to a small group of families in her school community. Dendtler selected the families carefully, inviting those who had children with challenges– emotional, learning, behavioral. While Dendtler herself was bursting with excitement about RULER, she says “I wasn’t going to try and convince anyone. My strategy at that point was to just give them a little nugget and have a dialogue about how it might benefit our school community.” The sessions were a success and soon after, Dendtler found out about another Anchors training opportunity in the summer. “I couldn’t stop doing the happy dance,” she recalls with a laugh. Dendtler selected longtime ECO School teacher Tiffany Ballard Blair and Valerie Kemp, the school’s Director of Curriculum, to attend the training. When the two returned to ECO in the Fall of 2014, they brought their passion for RULER with them, eager to bring the emotion revolution to their school community. At the school’s RULER kick-off assembly in late September, the School Charter was unveiled. Ballard Blair wore a t-shirt she designed for the occasion with a picture of the Mood Meter on the front and the words “RULER at ECO” on the back. The 5th graders presented a skit that showed students and teachers in a challenging scenario. They performed the scenario twice– the first version without using the RULER approach to regulate their emotions and the second version using the tools. Afterwards, the whole school discussed the difference between the two examples. “This is it,” Kemp says emphatically. Her enthusiasm for RULER is palpable. An alumni of the first graduating class of the Summer Principals Academy (SPA) at Columbia University, Kemp has been involved in social emotional learning for years and has been instrumental in bringing it to ECO School. “This work is bigger than all of us– using these tools isn’t only benefiting our school, it’s a way for us to create positive change on a very large scale in our   read more

Real Schools – Lyceé Francais New York

Real Schools – Lyceé Francais New York

Lyceé Francais – Innovation With Parent Engagement By Rose Nisker BACKGROUND The Lyceé Francais de New York (LFNY) is an independent bilingual school for students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. Founded in 1935 by Comte Charles de Ferry de Fontnouvelle, then French Consul General in New York, the school follows the academic curriculum established by the French National Ministry of Education, while incorporating aspects of the American educational system. LFNY’s single building campus is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, occupying a full city block in one of the country’s most expensive neighborhoods. With 1,367 students representing 45 nationalities, LFNY has a distinctly international feel. Its bilingual environment is bolstered by a student body comprised of one-third French citizens and another third made up of French-American dual-citizens. A central part of the school’s stated purpose is to provide teaching methods that “reflect both the French standards of intellectual rigor and the American traditions of pragmatism, positive reinforcement, initiative, and creativity.” LYCEÉ FRANCAIS DE NEW YORK AND RULER In 2013, Director of Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and RULER co-creator Dr. Marc Brackett visited Anne Harlam’s pre-k classroom at LFNY. The students were eager to share the many RULER-based projects they had been developing all year, including their classroom Mood Meter. When Brackett asked the students to report on their emotional state, a little girl raised her hand enthusiastically. “I’m in the yellow!” she declared. When asked why, she responded, “Because the Mood Meter man is here!!” The little girl in Harlam’s class isn’t the only RULER enthusiast at LFNY– the Head of Primary School, Vannina Boussouf, is also a fan. Boussouf was first introduced to RULER 3 years ago through a webinar program with Dr. Brackett. She was looking for a social and emotional learning program that would fit her school’s unique bilingual, international environment. “We are not only bilingual, we are bicultural,” Boussouf explains emphatically. “We needed a program that our teachers could translate and adapt for the cultural backgrounds at our school.” She knew that anything with a rigid format and highly circumscribed materials wasn’t going to fly, especially with the French team of teachers and administrators at LFNY. “Many social and emotional learning programs have a very American spirit,” she says with a chuckle. “It can come across as too positive or artificial for those coming from a French background.” Boussouf felt that the flexibility of the RULER program was ideal for both her French and American teaching and administrative teams. “RULER presented a framework with very versatile tools which we could take and alter to fit our school.” Excited by the webinar, Boussouf encouraged 3 LFNY teachers to attend the RULER training, each one representing a different Primary School grade-level and language specialty– Pre-K English teacher Anne Harlam; Veronica McGivney Park, a bilingual 1st grade teacher who heads the English program in the Primary School, and Daphnee Marchini, a bilingual 5th grade teacher with a French emphasis. “We wanted them to be able to come back and train all of our teachers, administrators and parents,” says Boussouf. Boussouf also encouraged the PTA to bring Dr. Brackett to speak to LFNY parents. The packed event was a compelling introduction to the program, and parents were eager to participate in follow-up RULER trainings led by Harlam, Marchini and McGivney   read more

High School Student, Grade 11

High School Student, Grade 11

“I’m definitely prone to cracking under pressure. A lot of stress makes me give up; I just can’t deal with it. The Meta Moment helps me take a step back and gauge what’s going on. It eases the stress and makes me a better   read more

2nd Grade Teacher, Spring Glen

2nd Grade Teacher, Spring Glen

“At the beginning of the year, one of my students saw bullying going on and didn’t know how to help. The student came to me, and we held a family meeting with the whole class to talk about what it means to be an ally. Now, what they’re doing to stand up for each other is so powerful. RULER allowed me to set the stage to teach my kids to be an ally instead of a   read more

Elementary Student, Age 10

Elementary Student, Age 10

“I like the mood meter because I can tell my friends how I’m feeling. Last week, I was working with a girl in my class and she was talking for a long time and I was really mad. I went to the mood meter and expressed my feelings to one of my closest friends, and that helped me change my mood. I needed to tell somebody that I was really mad and get that over with so I could just be   read more

Kindergarten Teacher, Spring Glen

Kindergarten Teacher, Spring Glen

“RULER has really enhanced our classroom climate. It helps the students know what is expected of them. Since they made up the rules [on the Charter], they own it. I don’t have power struggles with them, and I see them   read more

High School Student, Grade 12

High School Student, Grade 12

“When the teachers check in with the Mood Meter, it makes me realize that they care. I have my down days, but when they check in, it reminds me that I still need to pay attention. I feel more lifted afterwards, and the better I feel, the better I   read more

Preschool Teacher, Childcare Learning Centers

Preschool Teacher, Childcare Learning Centers

“Before RULER, the classroom was often chaotic. When a difficult situation happened, it was really hard to get the students to calm down or tell us what was on their mind. Now, they’re able to calm down, relax, and tell us what’s on their mind. It’s a lot smoother, and I enjoy coming in every day to work with the   read more

High School Student, Grade 10

High School Student, Grade 10

“The Mood Meter helps me assess how I feel during the day. I’ve realized that I jump around from emotion to emotion throughout the day, so the Mood Meter helps me get more in control of my emotions. I can think things out better instead of reacting   read more