For Immediate Release: November 30, 2012
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino today announced that Partners HealthCare, and its founding hospitals Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospital, is committing $1 million to the Boston Public Health Commission for a collaborative effort among the two organizations and the Boston Public Schools to implement Open Circle, a social and emotional learning program developed and run out of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, for 7,000 students in 23 Boston public elementary and K-8 schools.
“This program will give Boston’s students another tool in their tool kits to help them to make good choices,” Mayor Menino said. “This is a great example of how we can all come together and find ways to support our kids.”
Coordinated by the Boston Public Health Commission’s Division of Violence Prevention, the collaborative will strengthen students’ skills so that they are empowered to promote positive behaviors and healthy relationships at school and in their community. By focusing on social and emotional learning, the organizations hope that educators can proactively address conflicts before they come to a head, instead of addressing the negative outcomes after the fact.
“Our goal is to help young people better understand their emotions and be able to talk about them and learn to manage them. This project will help young people develop skills for healthy, positive relationships,” said Gary Gottlieb, MD, President and CEO of Partners HealthCare. “By working with the Mayor and Boston Public Schools on this initiative, we want to support our young people in the classroom and in the community.”
The two-year grant will provide training and professional development for 750 teachers, teaching assistants and principals to implement the evidence-based Open Circle program. At the heart of the curriculum are 15 to 20 minute classroom meetings led by homeroom teachers twice per week. These interactive meetings include group discussions, role-playing, children’s literature, and activities to teach important skills such as listening, sharing, cooperating, speaking up, calming down, expressing anger appropriately, recognizing dangerous and destructive behavior, and problem solving. These lessons are further reinforced throughout the school day as all staff members integrate the promotion, modeling, and labeling of positive social and emotional skills into their teaching practice, their relationships with students and their relationships with colleagues and parents.
“Every day we look for innovative ideas and strategies that we can use to support our students,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol R. Johnson, Ed.D. “Social and emotional learning is critically important to our students so they can learn strategies that will help them manage their feelings and cultivate healthy relationships. We want each student to be their very best, and we look forward to working with our partners on this initiative to ensure that our students achieve all of their goals.”
Recent research has shown that social and emotional learning does more than improve behavior. It can also help students make significant gains in academic achievement — on average, a gain of 11 percentile points in reading and math, according to a 2011 review of more than 200 studies published in the journal Child Development. Social and emotional learning also equips students with the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future – communication, collaboration, cooperation, goal setting, problem solving, and persistence in the face of challenges.
“Like many other large urban school districts in the country, Boston administrators and educators are concerned about suspension rates, dropout rates, and academic achievement challenges,” explains Nova Biro, Open Circle Co-Director. “Success depends as much on students’ social and emotional development as on their cognitive abilities and Open Circle can help improve these outcomes by providing teachers with evidence-based tools and techniques.”
The NoVo Foundation has committed to fund, through a $220,000 grant, a broad research study examining process outcomes and program impact for this initiative.
"Open Circle is an exemplary approach to building social and emotional skills in students and creating positive school climates. We are proud to support the evaluation component of this important initiative in Boston schools," notes Jennifer Buffett, NoVo Foundation's President.
Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, is a comprehensive, whole-school approach to developing safe, caring and highly engaging classroom and school communities. Open Circle improves school climate and helps address a broad range of challenging behaviors in school, from disruption of classroom instruction to teasing, bullying, and fighting.
“This expansion of Open Circle’s work in Boston Public Schools reflects the Wellesley Centers for Women mission of making the world a better place for women and girls, their families and communities, through research, theory, and action that increases justice and wellbeing,” notes Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Centers. “For 25 years now, Open Circle has helped elementary schools create highly engaging classroom and school communities across the region. It’s exciting for us to collaborate with Partners HealthCare, the Boston Public Health Commission, and Boston Public Schools to ensure that this work reaches more young children, teachers, and communities in the city.”
The extensive program training for teachers and administrators will ensure a consistent approach, vocabulary and expectations for student behavior school-wide. Parents and caregivers will also learn Open Circle approaches to use at home through workshops at the schools and at Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Additionally, schools will build capacity for sustained, continuous improvement in social and emotional learning through Open Circle peer coaches, parent group facilitators, and multi-departmental social and emotional learning leadership teams.
“It is great to work with so many committed educators who are excited that Open Circle offers a proactive and systematic approach to social and emotional learning,” shares Nancy MacKay, Open Circle Co-Director. “They tell us that that the program is helping them establish classroom and school communities where children feel safe, connected, and ready to learn--what more could we want?”