Mind In The Making

Teaching Educators and Parents About Children’s Socio-Emotional Development

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Mind the Making, an unprecedented effort to share research and science about how children learn, is well underway in Providence Schools and is gaining positive feedback from parents and educators alike.

Mind in the Making is comprised of an introductory session and seven essential life skills modules that are based on the book by Ellen Galinsky, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. Each module focuses on one of the seven essential life skills identified by Galinsky as the skills that students who reach their full potential in school and in life typically possess: focus and self-control, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges and self-directed, engaged learning.  These skills that manage our emotions, intellect and behavior allow us to reach our goals.

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The program, now in its first year of a four-year grant, is presently being offered in seven Providence elementary schools and has trained more than 60 facilitators to lead the eight-part class with parents, teachers, teacher assistants, child care providers or others who work with young children.

Mind in the Making is driven by research that indicates that family involvement is a strong predictor for students’ success in school and that the transition to kindergarten period is critical in establishing relationships between families and schools.

By providing joint training for families, teachers and staff, Mind in the Making is expected to improve school readiness, academic outcomes for students and parent communication with teachers and staff. It is unique in bringing together educators and families for a shared purpose of successfully bridging children’s transition into school.

Twenty-four classes are currently underway at Bailey, Carnevale, Fortes, Lauro, Pleasant View, Sackett and Young & Woods elementary schools. The two-hour classes are comprised of instruction, videos, activities and group work. Families are invited to attend with their children, who are instructed in related, age-appropriate lessons separately. Early arrivals eat a light dinner together.

In  recent session at Charles Fortes Elementary School, facilitators Ana Velez and Moses Oje were guiding a group of parents and grandparents on Making Connections, a lesson that will help children figure out and sort what is the same and different into categories and inspire creativity through usual and unusual connections.

According to Velez, the program is going well; attendance is consistent and parents are learning how to talk with their children rather than at them.

She enjoys being a facilitator because “we are empowering their lives and their kids. This program is designed for everything.”

Oje agrees. “The number one priority for this program is to help kids get ready for school. The functions they are learning now are important to develop because they will help them for the rest of their lives.”

Throughout the class, both facilitators emphasized the importance of leading by example, reminding parents that “the skills begin with you.”

Venita Parham, who works for Ready to Learn Providence, took the class for the learning experience. “It’s been really interesting to see the connection of both sides of the brain working together. It teaches kids to focus and deal with issues and helps them to learn to balance emotions.”

Kelle Paul, who is taking the class with her granddaughter, appreciates the focus on self-control and communication. Her four-year-old granddaughter, Yasmine, is expressing herself and opening up more since taking the class. “I play games with her and we practice what we’re learning on a Kindle. She’s very eager to learn.”

Nevaeh Smitho is taking the class with her mother, Edna, and said she is having a lot of fun and learning a lot as well as meeting a great group of people. “I had to change the way I talk to my daughter. I enjoy learning how the brain works and develops,” she said.

Her mother, Edna, said she has also learned a lot, especially since much has changed since she raised her own children. ‘I’ve learned different ideas and different methods,” she said.

In the class, parents shared memories from their childhoods and how they are different from their own children’s, made connections to various animals posted around the room and the meanings of various symbols. At times, the discussion focused on issues parents and grandparents are facing and the facilitators were always ready with practical advice. Participants felt comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns and ideas.

Each module is accompanied by activities for parents to try at home along with related books.

Tasha White, a teacher at Charles Fortes and a 12-year teaching veteran, who is also the parent of two young children, is taking Mind in the Making. She decided to sign up after hearing her colleagues speak so highly of the class. She, too, is learning about the different functions of the brain and “how that comes into play with the students in front of me and with my own children.”

The examples, sharing and communication offered in the class are helpful, along with the videos, and “the facilitators are fabulous. They make everyone comfortable and they support us,” she said.

Mind in the Making is funded through Ready to Learn Providence, a program of the Providence Plan, with a $3 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3). Providence is the only Rhode Island district offering the program and one of only seven in the nation piloting Mind in the Making.

Over the course of the four-year grant, Mind in the Making expects to train 2,580 families, 240 teachers and 160 other school staff in all 21 elementary schools on the essential life skills.

Parents and caregivers are recruited for classes at kindergarten registration, especially incoming students who are at risk for not being ready for school. The class is offered to families and school personnel in grades K-3 in all public elementary schools in Providence over the course of the grant. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish and are considered one of the best ways parents can strengthen the school readiness of their children.

Facilitators are present in all elementary schools for 1-2 days each week to work with school faculty, the Office of Family and Community Engagement and the Full Service Community Schools staff to recruit families. While the primary focus is on parents, 42 kindergarten teachers were trained over the summer.

According to Carrie Feliz, director of strategic community partnerships, families love the program, and are progressing through the eight-week course. The retention rate stands near80 percent.

According to Feliz, parents of older students have commented that, if they had known about these executive function skills, they would have changed their parenting. Those who are involved in the program say they are engaging their children differently and are seeing better results, including improved discipline, more activated learners and children who are better prepared for school.

“Children are better able to control their own behavior and actions. Parents are learning how children learn and how to positively impact their children’s social, emotional and intellectual development,” said Feliz.