This piece was published earlier in the week on the IDEA blog, as part of an ongoing series of responses to each chapter of A Year at Mission Hill.
About two minutes into Chapter 7 of A Year at Mission Hill, we see a young student leaving his classroom, obviously frustrated and angry. An adult follows behind, aware and watchful and prepared to guide him through the emotional storm he’s obviously weathering. In the frames that precede and follow this moment, we get to see the ways that the Mission Hill community supports kids when they are at their growing edges- when they are frustrated, disengaged, unhappy and challenging. Francie Marbury, principal of Marlboro Elementary School in Marlboro, Vermont knows about the ubiquitous nature of that moment. “That student, very angry, running down the hall – that was familiar,” she notes. “and it’s so refreshing that the first thing mentioned in response isn’t zero tolerance, planning rooms, or suspension.”
For the adults at MES, a k-8 school of nearly 90 students in Southeastern Vermont, supporting kids in their most challenging moments is a cornerstone of the educational experience. “We’ve modeled our approach on the 3 tiered system used in PBIS but not in a lock step way.” In both schools, every adult in the building can expect to play a role. Mission Hill secretary Jonie Davies comments that kids may come to her to “regroup, take a break…even just for a hug,” At MES, “the other intervention that is so based on community and relationship is just a visit to the secretary – often at the student’s request.” So, even though we don’t have a lock step approach, we have a clear structure and clear communication so that staff know how to support kids in different situations.” Francie points to the commonalities in the ways that MES and Mission Hill staff build community including having individual classrooms set their rules together, building consistent routines, jobs and expectations as well as shared experiences outside of the classroom.
Beyond the strategies and methodologies, however, it’s clear that the Mission Hill and MES communities share an underlying philosophy about the roles of adults when helping children grow up healthy and happy. “We have worked hard on this,” Francie said, ”and have adopted some specific practices, all predicated on the belief that children need help learning self control and developing a sense of responsibility for their actions and that the whole school community needs to be involved. The idea is that the entire staff is responsible for student behavior.”
It’s not just about managing events during the school day. Mission Hill staff recognize that kids come to school with a whole set of positive and negative experiences that occur in out-of-school time, and they work hard to gather as much information as possible in order to meet the needs of their students. “We don’t always know what’s going on at home with some of these kids.” says Jonie Davies. “We don’t know what they’ve been through.” According to Francie, the same rules apply at MES. “It’s about sharing a child’s history, bringing together as much information as possible and developing a plan. This happens formally through our Educational Support Team process. This team, consisting of two classroom teachers, the guidance counselor, the instructional support teacher, and the principal, meets weekly or as needed to focus on one student. A child’s teacher brings the student to the group, sharing her observations, student work samples, and whatever else may be relevant. The teacher solicits information from others, as well – the art, music, and P.E. teachers and any staff who have regular interactions with the student. Parents are part of the team.”
Anyone who works with children- in fact, anyone who works with human beings- will recognize the gift and burden that comes with helping another person weather the storm of growing up and finding a place in the world. For the students at Mission Hill- and at Marlboro Elementary- there’s a community of adults standing by, ready to provide shelter from the storm.