By Corinne Kennelly
Lower School Counselor
As I enter my twelfth year here at GFA, my role as a counselor has never been more meaningful. I focus daily on helping our Lower School students develop the emotional understanding and the social skills they need to thrive in the classroom, on the playground, and in life. This year brings so much change with it and we are working hard to maintain the kind of connection — student to student and adult to student — that is critical in development.
In the second, third, and fourth grades, I teach Life Skills, which is what we call our social-emotional learning curriculum. Kids learn what makes them who they are, how they are unique, and what they have in common with others. They use real-life conflicts to practice problem-solving through discussion and role-play (lower schoolers love to role-play!) and work to identify and manage their emotions and the emotions of others. Our faculty began last year using Yale's RULER approach which brings that learning into every Lower School classroom. Life Skills lessons follow the five core competencies of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning). They are evidence-based and draw on the strengths and limitations of each age — but they are also lively and a lot of fun!
I work closely with teachers, parents, and specialists to support children throughout the day. I see kids individually and in groups. This fall, our groups may involve bundling up and meeting on the front lawn — as we are presently doing with Third Grade Friendship group — or sitting on the sunny patio to meet our new students. Instead of my classroom visits, I am meeting students outside for lunch or recess. Overall, my goal is to be a consistent and comfortable presence for all children from the time they arrive at GFA to the time they move into Middle School.
I appreciate GFA’s commitment to social-emotional learning during these critical years and so appreciate teaching your children. It is amazing to watch them learn about themselves and their place in the world. Students have embraced this year's changes in a way only kids can — wearing crazy fun masks, enjoying boxed lunches on the lawn, and shouting "Helicopter arms!" or "Zombie arms!" for proper distancing. They are the perfect example of "flexible" (a goal for most of us).
Although I surely look forward to a time when physical distancing is no longer required, I cannot ignore the opportunity it presents: the chance for adults and children to work together, adapt, make mistakes, and persevere in a novel environment — and feel good about our successes.