Chris Brown, Child and Youth Worker with Grand Erie, is sitting in front of a Grade 1 class at Central Public School holding up a card that reads “Tired.” Above the word is a sketch of a face expressing that same feeling. Ms. Brown explains to the students that preparing for the holiday season – running errands, shopping, wrapping gifts – has left her feeling a bit run down, and to remedy it, she’s planning to go to bed earlier.
Caption: Chris Brown leads a PATHS lesson
The “Tired” card is one of dozens that make up a set of Feelings Face Cards, and each student in the class has their own set of cards to work with. The cards are part of the PATHS program, which stands for Promoting Alternate Thinking Strategies, introduced in many Grade 1 classrooms across Grand Erie this year. PATHS is an evidence-based, social-emotional curriculum that teaches self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationships skills. The program is delivered by the Child and Youth Worker, with the support of the classroom teacher.
During this lesson, Ms. Brown reads to students from a book called Move Your Mood, walks them through a demonstration of “Turtle” (a self-regulation technique), and supports them in giving genuine compliments to each other.
“This is really about teaching skills for life,” says Piyali Bagchee, Grand Erie’s Mental Health Lead. “It’s a wholistic approach that has a family component as well, so that the same concepts are being introduced and reinforced both at school and at home.”
On this particular day, parents and guardians have been invited into the classroom to see the PATHS lesson and activities firsthand.
“They didn’t have this kind of program when I was growing up, and when Skyler brought home the letter explaining it, I immediately thought, ‘these are exactly the kind of things that should be taught,’” says Matthew, Skyler’s dad, who attended the PATHS parent event. “At home, we’re using the same messages so that he knows it’s okay to be sad or angry, it’s okay to cry; we just need to express those feelings appropriately.”
Caption: Parents Shelbie and Matthew with Grade 1 student Skyler
Research has shown that evidence-based, social-emotional programs such as PATHS improve student achievement and well-being.
“When students attempt new, challenging things such as solving a math problem, it can be stressful and frustrating, and sometimes the response is to shut down,” notes Kelli Sage, Grade 1 teacher at Central Public School. “Now they’ve been introduced to new ways of looking at problems and can take a step back, calm down, take deep breaths if they need to; it’s changed the way they approach different conflicts and its given them tools for resolving them.”
PATHS also ties into many aspects of Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan, which places an emphasis on well-being. It also helps create a community of support by involving family members in their child’s learning, improves attitudes about oneself and others in the classroom, and reduces behaviours that interfere with learning.
“There’s a ripple effect to this work; when students leave this building, they’re taking those skills of self-regulation and empathy with them,” says Joseph Atanas, Central Public School principal. “For a program to have that kind of impact, it’s amazing.”