Myers Fellows Share Their Learning with Carroll Kids

Myers Fellows Share Their Learning with Carroll Kids
Carroll School

Thanks to the generosity of Stewart Myers and the Maureen McGuire Myers Endowment Fund for Faculty Professional Development, three Carroll educators recently returned to “school” to sharpen and broaden their skills. From a classroom setting to the great outdoors to a yoga studio, their on-the-ground training varied widely. Even more noteworthy is the impact of their experiences on Carroll students.

Take a peek at how the 2022 Myers Fellows are applying the lessons they learned in and beyond Carroll classrooms.

Meghan Shea, Lower School Counselor

What She Studied

Ms. Shea traveled to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York last summer, where she participated in a five-day immersive program in yoga and mindfulness practices for children, taught by Little Flower Yoga founder Jennifer Cohen Harper.

Why It Matters

It’s not unusual for Carroll students to experience anxiety or ADD/ADHD, which commonly occurs with dyslexia. When Ms. Shea took an online course with Ms. Cohen Harper a few years ago, during which she mentioned how calming simple breathing practices can be for kids, she knew she wanted to learn more. At last summer’s program, she learned much more, including kid-friendly language to make brain science accessible: Kids who experience attention or anxiety issues have a “protective brain” (the amygdala) on overdrive, always on the lookout for danger. Targeted mindfulness exercises and games can override the protective brain. These exercises engage the “thoughtful brain” (the prefrontal cortex), helping students to feel more grounded, relaxed, confident, and ready to learn. Their social-emotional skills are strengthened, too.

How It’s Helping Carroll Kids

Here’s just a sampling of the mindfulness and yoga exercises Ms. Shea has incorporated into Morning Meeting, her Community Building class, as well as in one-on-one and small-group work with students. She has even been training fellow Carroll teachers and counselors, who are eager to incorporate them into their own classrooms.

  • Deep breathing through the nose (as opposed to the mouth) stimulates the prefrontal cortex and creates a calming effect.
  • “Layer of Sound” encourages kids to notice the sounds furthest from them and closest to them, so they can feel calm.
  • “Four Senses” asks students to identify something they see, feel, hear, and smell, another way to orient them to their surroundings so they can accept the sensory input and feel calm.
  • “Walk, stop, wiggle, sit” purposely mixes up commands (walk means stop, stop means walk, wiggle means sit, etc.) to quiet the protective brain and activate the thoughtful brain.
  • Child’s pose and mountain pose foster feelings of strength and groundedness.

As Ms. Shea points out, these exercises reinforce a message that Carroll has always believed in: “Kids need to feel they belong in order to thrive, and in order to belong, they need to feel safe,” she says. By building their self-regulation skills, she is doing just that.

Teresa Lacks, Upper School Counselor

What She Studied

Last summer, Ms. Lacks began a professional certificate program at Suffolk University’s Center for Restorative Justice. She learned how restorative practices—focusing on mediation and collaborative problem-solving—can help to nurture social emotional growth and community among students.

Why It Matters

Last school year, with the brunt of the pandemic largely in the rearview mirror, Ms. Lacks began to notice her eighth- and ninth-grade students lashing out, misinterpreting their classmates’ behavior, and having difficulty managing social interactions. “It was more exaggerated than you’d typically see. It was as if they were begging for help,” she recalls. She knew they would benefit from regular opportunities to really listen to one other and speak from the heart. When she discovered Suffolk University’s program in restorative justice, which provides an established method for having healthy conversations when conflict arises, it hit the mark.

How It’s Helping Carroll Kids

Once every two weeks, at the start of Friday Community Time, students gather in a big circle. To begin, they take turns answering a strengths-based question, like, “What is something this week that you’re grateful for?” Next, they dig into a tougher question, such as, “What do adults need to understand about our culture and friends?” As Ms. Lacks explains, they always end their circle time with a silly question, like, “How will the aliens invade?” Everyone participates, even teachers.

While the insights shared from typically closed-lipped adolescents are revealing, far more significant is the vulnerability and resulting communion the circle time creates among students. Now, when a conflict arises, they not only understand the listening process a bit better, but one another. Circle time was tough for some at first, but routine has settled in. In fact, when a prospective student visited campus several weeks ago, to Ms. Lacks’ delight, she overheard the eighth graders sharing a story about it. “They told the visiting student how, when they first came to Carroll in the fall, they didn’t want to be at the school, they didn’t think it was cool to have dyslexia, and they didn’t think they would make any friends,” she recalls. “But then during circle time the first week, they discovered that everyone else thought the same thing! That message of acceptance and community wouldn’t have hit home so directly without that circle moment.”

(Ms. Lacks currently has a Tier 1 certification in restorative justice practices, and is on her way to earning Tier 2 and 3 certification.)

Dave Johnson, Bounders Instructor

What He Studied

Last September, Mr. Johnson and his assistant teacher, Will Close ’11, welcomed Lead with Nature founder Dan Gardoqui to the Lincoln campus—specifically, its outdoor classroom known as Bounders Woods. An expert birder and nature guru, Mr. Gardoqui mentored the pair on how to bring nature to the forefront of Bounders, increase student engagement, and consider possibilities for the growth of the program.

Why It Matters

With origins in the Outward Bound approach, Bounders—the very idea of hands-on time in nature to complement rigorous academic interventions—has been central to Carroll’s philosophy ever since the school opened its doors. Students rotate through the program every day for 50 minutes during a four-and-a half week term, similar to P.E. or art. While its outdoor skills and experiential offerings are robust—including woodcarving, responsible firecraft, a high ropes course, campfire cooking, and wintertime activities in a yurt—Mr. Johnson wanted his Middle School students to better understand and appreciate their connection to nature, and, by extension, each other. “We were missing the obvious—seeing and learning what was right in front of us in Bounders Woods: being able to recognize some of our local bird species, being able to identify different tree species, and understanding the changing rhythms of the seasons,” he explains.

How It’s Helping Carroll Kids

In addition to a broader conversation around the strategic vision and future of the program, Mr. Gardoqui taught Mr. Johnson several tricks for attuning students to nature, like creating signs to identify the types of trees in the forest, and asking them to come up with their own special names for them; talking about where the sun rises and sets, and locating East and West; making “tree cookies”—imprinted with designs of birds and trees—from slivers of fallen white pine; and identifying scat so students notice the different animals that make Bounders Woods their home. In the spring, Mr. Johnson plans to have students design and build bird boxes with the hopes of luring the Eastern screech owl and the saw whet owl to campus.

“Our kids learn best when they’re using their hands and creating something,” he says. “That’s where the connection comes for them. So all these small activities add up to a larger tapestry of nature awareness and self-discovery.” It’s the beginning of what he anticipates will be a productive working relationship with Mr. Gardoqui. “Not many schools have a program as unique as Bounders, and it's exciting to partner with Dan to think about ways to make it even better.”

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