Fifth graders eagerly raised their hands and shared stories about how they’ve demonstrated resilience. The discussion was part of a recent lesson in the Bronxville School’s CARE (Community, Awareness, Relationships, Empathy) program, led by psychologist Dr. Joyce Vastola.
“It’s critically important during this pandemic to help children, faculty and parents increase their feelings of resilience, which is the ability to bounce back, cope effectively and go forward no matter what life throws our way,” Dr. Vastola said. “The theme of being resilient has been a part of the CARE program from day one.”
Through various age-appropriate, social-emotional lessons that are relevant to the students and their daily lives, Dr. Vastola has been teaching mindfulness skills and empowering students with the necessary skills to tolerate distress, regulate emotions and develop and maintain positive relationships with peers and adults. Teachers, classroom aides and assistants have all been active participants in the lessons. For the annual schoolwide read, students in all grade levels will engage in discussions around “I Am Courage: A Book of Resilience” by Susan Verde.
“We want to teach students how to navigate life’s challenges,” Dr. Vastola said. “Part of resilience is educating them that their mind is their superpower. That you can control your mind and your mind doesn’t have to control you. Being resilient is knowing where you’re at, what you’re feeling, being able to process strong emotions, and to not run away from them, and learning skills to manage these emotions so you will not be overwhelmed by them.”
Dr. Vastola added that she has been teaching students what contributes to resilience, including gratitude, identifying feelings and urges in the moment, and coping effectively to make healthy decisions. A key part of resilience is helping students identify adults and peers they can go to for help and support and to recognize that asking for support is a sign of strength.
Assistant Principal Rakiya Adams said the students and educators have had to reimagine how they function as a school community while living through a pandemic and its challenges, including learning remotely, wearing masks, staying focused for hours on Zoom and connecting with friends while being physically distanced. Yet, the students have persevered through those challenges and demonstrated resilience.
“These are unnatural and big asks that are difficult, and they do it,” Adams said. “They have been doing it, and they’re still kids, they’re still playing, they’re still learning, which is resilience. We wanted to highlight that and name it for them because I don’t know if they knew what they were accomplishing. We also wanted to praise them for their resilience and make it a part of the whole schoolwide culture: that we are courageous.”
Principal Joseph Mercora said the CARE program alone has made an incredible impact on transitioning students successfully back into school this year.
“Many students shared in CARE lessons that school is his happy place,” Adams added. “With all the barriers that we had and all the challenges that we had along the way, for us to know that students are happy here, I feel like we’ve done our job.”
The CARE program is part of the elementary school’s social-emotional learning curriculum and plays an important role in maintaining a caring school environment.