By Christine Mason and Jillayne Flanders, CEI Associate
With guidance from Jillayne Flanders, CEI Associate and the Associate Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Elementary School Principals Association, the Dexter Park Innovation School in Franklin County, MA will be implementing CEI’s Heart Centered Education® program during the next few months. CEI is supporting a mini-pilot at Dexter Park with an award of $1,000 to the school. The Dexter Park Innovation School is a high-poverty rural school serving 350 students in grades 3-6, located In Orange, MA, about 40 miles from Springfield. Orange is a historic town (founded in 1810) where median incomes are now $44,000.
Heart Centered Learning, CEI’s signature approach focusing on 5cs (compassion, courage, consciousness, confidence, and community) is very compatible with the priorities of Dexter Park. According to Principal Chris Dodge, ‘One of our school goals this year is to build a culture of respect and collaboration between adults/students, adults/adults, students/students and school/community, which includes providing PD to staff so that there is consistency in building a classroom community through and responding to challenging behaviors.’ In tandem, Dexter Park’s behaviorist Jan Rowland and Principal Chris Dodge have been discussing strategies to help students regulate their emotions and respond to situations more effectively. Dexter Park was in the phase of teaching students and staff various mindfulness techniques, when they were contacted by Jill Flanders about this opportunity. According to Dodge, ‘In speaking with her, it appears that this will be a perfect fit into what we are currently pursuing and into our current school goals, and I am hopeful that this will be partnership that is long-lasting.’ Chris Dodge is a Responsive Classroom Morning Meeting Trainer.
In 2017, Dexter Park was identified as a Massachusetts Innovation School where a focus is raising academic achievement of all students in an inclusive environment. The Dexter Park Innovation School’s Mission Statement is to ‘strive to provide an inclusive environment with instructional practices designed to meet individual needs. All students will be provided with differentiated educational opportunities to increase achievement. Our mission is for all students to gain skills, both academic and social, in order to be successful in the future.’
Over the next few months, Jill Flanders will assist in providing professional development to the school to further teacher understanding of trauma, the neuroscience behind Heart Centered Learning, and how children who have been traumatized can be supported in schools. According to Flanders, “The Heart Centered Learning Curriculum encompasses the best practices in supporting social-emotional development with the most recent brain research, to provide educators with a program for elementary children that is data driven, intertwined with academic skills and essential for enriching the growth of the whole child.”