By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support
“Bishop Brady High School: A Caring Community” is on the sign outside this Concord, New Hampshire high school. Andrea Elliot, the principal of this small Catholic school that serves about 300 students, thinks her school’s foundational belief in the importance of loving one another—brother and stranger—is why hers is a compassionate school community.
Building on a Foundation of Faith
Andrea credits the deep sense of compassion in her school community to the Catholic faith that is the foundation of Bishop Brady High School (BBHS) families’ belief systems. She wasn’t surprised when her school scored above average for “Leadership and a Compassionate School Community” on the School Culture Analytical Tool for Educators (S-CCATE) assessment. School leaders have given families the comfort that “when you send your child here, we wrap them up in love and figure out how to get through it.” She has a caring staff who seek to ensure that each student has someone to check in on them and connect with. There are always three to four adults during free time searching out the kids who have no one to talk to.
Andrea’s background as a school counselor has helped her look at the whole child to see what’s standing in the way of success—far too often the answer is trauma. Andrea’s former role has helped her understand the importance of teaching self-regulation and coping skills instead of focusing solely on academics. In fact, she’s made changes in advisory period to include more social-emotional learning activities and opportunities for teachers to check in with individual students as well as specific discussions about youth mental health.
Growth and Understanding through Spreading Love
Bishop Brady students don’t just learn about compassion, they practice it. Compassionate action is key at BBHS, with its requirement that each student complete 100 hours of community service before graduation. In addition to the work of the 23 student organizations, many of which focus on service learning, BBHS has several schoolwide initiatives that demonstrate compassionate action:
The Thanksgiving Food Drive is another annual event where students take the lead in collecting food, creating around 25 baskets, and delivering them to neighborhood families in need.
Operation Santa is a yearly program that staff, students, and parents participate in to bring Christmas gifts to 130 families from around the state who otherwise might not get a gift.
A Day of Dignity, an event where students spent the entire day in conversations about bridging differences between students and coping with difficulties with positivity, was recently piloted at BBHS.
The Sycamore Garden Project is BBHS’s current act of compassion. Students began growing seedlings that will be donated to local community colleges as a symbol of hope and growth. This project has brought students from different ethnic, religious, cultural, and financial backgrounds together to cultivate positivity.
Bringing BBHS Compassion to the Wider Community
Andrea is not only passionate about bringing compassionate practices to her own school, but New Hampshire as a state, New England as a region, and beyond. As a Catholic school, BBHS doesn’t have access to the same programming to address trauma and inequities as public schools. The Department of Education reached out to Andrea to serve on a non-public school advisory committee to address this issue for BBHS and other schools in New Hampshire.
As a member of the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC), Andrea has been able to connect with others in the region who are promoting this work and access resources about healing trauma in schools to share with her school community. She feels encouraged to see the enthusiasm other C-TLC Fellows tirelessly bring, because “this is something that can’t ever stop. You have to keep working at it and look for new ways to make teachers more aware and make families more comfortable with asking for and receiving help. It’s continuous.” Andrea understands that working together, we can help trauma-impacted students and families heal.