Since we got married, we have spent our lives together working with children in our community, other communities and in our school. We are driven by our desire to make a difference in the lives of children. We met in Arizona and assisted with the Grandma/Grandpa Corp, which was a community based program to help children in need. We later helped indigenous kids both in Mexico and Guatemala. When we came back to Connecticut, we became active members at our church and with Children’s Community School because they are driven by parental involvement and exist only because of community involvement. We are deeply passionate about developing social emotional skills, creating experiential learning curriculum and making community and family connections. Since reading about the SOS Children’s Village programs in Europe, we have wanted to learn more about how this works and how we can bring this back to our schools, so we designed a fellowship to observe social emotional/experiential learning and family strengthening programs in some of Austria and Italy’s SOS Children’s Villages and Reggio Emilia schools to replicate the proven social emotional learning practices in classrooms, small group instruction and community collaborations.
Our students are faced with difficult academic, social, and emotional demands daily.They lack coping skills and often require assistance to manage their stressors and difficult home life. SOS operates in 135 countries, making it possible to drive impact on key issues that are similar to our school district. In spite of the fact that all children in Europe have access to good quality, free education, those from families with lower incomes are less likely to succeed educationally. This inequality is reflected in the type of school they attend: about 80 percent of children living at risk of poverty go to a general secondary school and only 20 percent to a more academic secondary school. In addition, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, there are significant differences between the performance of children with a migrant background and that of native students. Poor educational achievement affects their chances of finding future employment. This is similar to our district. Our fellowship will help us learn techniques to apply social emotional skills, experiential learning, improve community involvement and better family collaboration.
SOS Children’s Villages has been supporting unaccompanied refugee children for over 15 years. In 2015, and in response to the refugee crisis, they provided individual care for children and young adults who arrived alone in Austria. They live in SOS families or are cared for in small group homes throughout the country. SOS Children’s Villages are very active in Austria, adapting its work to the needs of children and families. In addition to the SOS Children’s Villages, where children who have lost parental care can be looked after by the SOS mothers, there are a number of programs working with families and young people in the community. Young children can attend the SOS Kindergartens while their parents go to work or receive training. Family strengthening programs are an important component of the work carried out. We will tour, observe and meet with directors at SOS Villages in Imst and Vorarlberg, and Dornbirn/Vorarlberg, Austria; and Mantua, Ostuni and Rome, Italy. We will also stop in Reggio Emilio, Italy, where the Reggio Emilia approach to education was founded on the belief that every child is full of intelligence, curiosity and wonder. The basis for development in the early years is a child’s ability to use The Hundred Languages available to him or her. These hundred languages a child might use go beyond speech and include “languages” for expression such as drawing, music and dramatic play.
Our guiding questions for this fellowship are:
- How can we apply what they are doing to meet the social and emotional needs of their students in our district?
- What social emotional techniques, community involvement strategies and family collaboration ideas can we apply to our existing curriculum and supports?
- What is the sustainability of the program they run in relation to student learning? And,
- Does this sustainability equate to quantitative and qualitative data that demonstrates improvement in the school community?
Young students struggling with hardships is a familiar theme for Donnie. One of five children, his mother died in a car accident when he was 12 and he was raised by his grandparents. Read more about Donnie’s story and path to becoming a teacher here.
Social Emotional Learning includes instruction in recognizing and managing emotions, solving problems effectively, and establishing positive relationships with others. We believe family strengthening programs, community collaboration and experiential learning schools will give us the ability to develop programs at both the elementary and high school levels to dramatically elevate SEL across our district. For us, community collaboration will be key. We plan to forge partnerships with:
- The Women and Families Center which fosters empowerment for children and families
- Robyn’s House which provides short term housing to young people and assisting with independent living.
- Open DOHR which focuses on developing opportunities in human resources employment and training
- Goodwin College nearby, which supports the Reggia philosophy.
We plan on having the high school students help teach some of the lesson plans and work collaboratively with Kindergartners across the district. We will differentiate based on grade level and areas of concern (absences, behaviors, referrals and overall school performance). Students meeting with success after completion of a developed plan will eventually be able to plan, implement and assist other students meet with success. When taught daily embedded social emotional learning skills, we believe students will be able to practice these skills in a
safe setting and feel confident applying them in the moment throughout their school day and at home. The students will also work with community partnerships to bring 6 to 8 week programs from Woman and Families and Goodwin College to our schools. School community will benefit by the discussions about developing a school wide curriculum to build and maintain social emotions skills and improved relationships. Authentic learning and problem solving will be acquired through collaboration with staff, parents and community partnerships.
Short term plans also include utilizing lessons from units taken from our districts new social emotional learning curriculum and the curriculum from Reggia Emilia and SOS schools to enhance student learning. Our ultimate long range goal is to collaborate with our home based school colleagues so that they understand that relationship building is something that can shape the school culture and climate.
Teaching is Donnie Dupree‘s third career. After several years in the Army and several years in the technology field, he earned his teaching degree at the age of 35 and currently teaches kindergarten at Israel Putnam Elementary School. Mikki Dupree is a school psychologist at Orville H. Platt High School. They share the same philosophy that it is their job to teach and guide children to be successful in all areas of life.