Student Wellness in Catholic Schools
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School is located in the military town of Petawawa, Ontario. The population of the town is 15,500. The population of the school is approximately 350 students – both military and civilian families. Our school offers an extended French program from JK to Grade 3. The school has 14 classes from JK through to Grade 7. Staff numbers 30 individuals.
The school community has a strong relationship with parish, community and home. However, the knowledge and understanding of Catholic Values and Catholic Teachings is largely the responsibility of the Catholic teachers.
The Grade 1 teaching team was interested in collaborating our resources, interests and personal education to explore Student Wellness in Catholic Schools. Together, we felt the Grade 1 foundation is a perfect building block to infuse wellness strategies and equip students with a wellness toolkit of resources that will connect student closer to Christ and closer to a self-awareness of “Who I Am” as a child of God.
Who are we?
The Grade 1 teaching team is a diverse group of female educators who bring unique gifts and talents to the conversation. Kelly McDaniels brings 20 years of grades 1/2 teaching practice and an enthusiastic approach to literacy in relation to students well-being. Sheila Laidley is a relatively new teacher with five years of teaching experience. Her teaching talent is bringing a French perspective to our project. She has taught grades JK-8. Jody Anne has recently completed her Principal Qualifications and Masters in Religious Education. As a Grade 1 teacher, her anchor to the project was connecting wellness to His Word. Our three class sizes range in student numbers from 18 to 21. We have a handful of students (we refer to them as “angels”) in each class that need a lot of extra love and attention due to behavioural challenges.
The purpose of the project “Student Wellness in Catholic Schools” was to address five areas of Wellness – Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Social and Intellectual – and create rich programs that would assist early learners with managing their personal stress, their peer’s stress and their home stresses while adopting positive self-regulation strategies. It was important to the team that mentor text, board games and technology programs be inserted through this new learning.
It was also important to the team that this project share a vision in which all primary students embrace an attitude of wellness as a core value that reflects compassion found within God’s Word … God’s message. Therefore, quotes from saints and scripture were highlighted in the wellness toolkit.
What naturally unfolded through this project was the inclusion of Catholic Graduate Expectations. The fruit of the CGE is the cornerstone by which Catholic education is directed. The promotion of the CGE, through this project, brought a new direction – a branch that outreached and connected school, home and parish.
The blessing to this project was in creating a stronger – more unified – teaching team. Through learning and growing together, we truly became a teaching community that modelled wellness strategies, embodied Catholic values, and celebrated our uniqueness through the Catholic Graduate Expectations.
Jody Anne McDonald
Renfrew County Catholic School Board
Renfrew County Catholic School Board
Renfrew County Catholic School Board
Professional Learning Goals
What have The Team members learned?
“Collaboration is an action verb. Learning is a helping verb. Prayer is a linking verb.”
Jody Anne McDonald
Many of the personal/professional lessons we unwrapped were a surprise. We were touched as to the magnitude of student openness and readiness to accept wellness strategies into their life. As a dynamic group of Grade 1 teachers, each offering our own unique gifts and talents to the classroom, it was amazing how honest our students presented themselves in their personal self-assessments, exit cards, surveys and daily conversations. We asked the right reflective questions that opened up doors to their inner spirit. Wellness is prayer!
The self-assessment tools were identical, yet, the delivery in which each teacher presented the student assessment may have varied slightly due to the personal character of each teacher. Collectively across the Grade 1 environment, the silent reflective voice within all of our students was exposed. This allowed opportunity for teacher-student conferences to emerge and rich 1-1 dialogue to begin. As Catholic educators, we are not called to gloss over the data, but to allow it to shine as a beacon for more conversations to begin. Conversations about bullying, self love, friendship, kindness, truth, inclusiveness and body image were addressed through class discussions and collaborative board games. Wellness is strength!
We also learned that healing toward a spirit of wellness can be found in simple mentor text. When we dug through our favourite Scholastic choices, we discovered wellness and Catholic values can be pulled from inexpensive literature that is cost-effective for many households – thereby, connecting home and school relationships. Wellness is love!
Activities and Resources
Activity A – Spiritual, Emotional, Social, Intellectual
The team created an affirmation project to inspire self love and external appreciation. Titled Caught Being Like Jesus, the goal of the project was to connect God’s Word, Catholic Graduate Expectations and student actions. Each month focused on one of the seven Catholic Graduate Expectations. The focus for the month was then split into four student-friendly sub-themes. Teachers could focus on a sub-theme each week during the month or focus on all four sub-themes throughout the month. Students whose actions mirrored His Word and the CGE theme for the month were nominated by their peers prior to a school assembly. The team created certificates for the nominated students and presented each student with both a certificate and a wood (cookie) medallion. Group pictures were taken of students as they posed in the front foyer.
Catholic Graduate Expectations used by St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School:
- I am a believer! I live my life like Jesus…
- I believe that God is awesome and He is always with us
- I believe I can communicate to God through various forms of prayer
- I believe in the message of the Bible and the stories of Jesus’ life
- I believe in faith and forgiveness
- I have a voice! I use it wisely and I live my life like Jesus!
- I speak, write and listen as Jesus would want me to by modelling “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD?)
- I am honest, caring and respectful to others
- I think before I act, react or speak
- I listen and learn from Bible stories
- I have ideas! I belong and have a purpose through living my life like Jesus!
- I make good choices and learn from my mistakes
- I have thoughts and opinions that are important
- I use prayer to help me solve problems
- I understand that we are all equal and unconditionally loved through Jesus
- I am a lifelong learner! I can reach for my dreams by living my life like Jesus!
- I use the gifts and talents given to me by God the Father
- I am grateful for the gifts and talents of others
- I set goals and build my strengths
- I am proud of my accomplishments
- I am a responsible learner! Who I am makes a difference because I live my life like Jesus!
- I understand that life is precious
- I know that social justice issues matter
- I model The Golden Rule
- I am a peacekeeper because I protect the world
- I am a team player! I know that together we can live like Jesus!
- I live a JOY attitude – Jesus first, Others second, You third
- I follow rules of fair play
- I value the contributions of others
- I work hard at school so I can belong to a faith community
- I am a prayerful learner! I remember the intentions of family and friends!
- I love God the Father, the Holy Spirit and His Son Jesus
- I care about my school, family, my community and my parish family
- I am compassionate to my world family
- I respect God’s creation
Activity B – Spiritual, Emotional, Social, Intellectual, Physical
The team turned to literacy. In reviewing Scholastic flyers, we were delighted to discover affordable text that met the goals of our project. Equipped with chart paper and markers, the team created five chart papers titled after each of our focus domains. Our next step was to sort our text interests under each of the themes. As a team, we had decided our classes needed moments to laugh together. This was also brought to the forefront of our minds through a discussion with our Board Mental Health Lead, Rebecca Paulsen. Scholastic offered us a great variety of joke books that were suitable for our Grade 1 students as well as connected to our language/math subjects.
Activity C – Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Social, Intellectual
The team created student survey questionnaires that reflected each of the five domains – Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Social and Intellectual. We believed the surveys should be student-friendly. Therefore, we consulted our RCCDSB Mental Health Lead, Rebecca Paulsen, and asked for her direction. With the reading interests of the students in mind, we created surveys that had yes/no, emojis and short answers as part of student choice. The surveys provided enlightening feedback that guided our next steps and led the team to recognize the value of graphing our data.
Spiritual Survey Questions:
- Do you pray?
- Are you kind to others?
- Do you act like Jesus?
- Are you a good friend?
Intellectual Survey Questions:
- Do you like school?
- Are you happy to be at this school?
- How do you feel about reading?
- Do you do things to be helpful at school?
- Have you ever read to your stuffy or pet?
- How do you feel when you think about reading?
- Do you have books in your bedroom?
Physical Survey Questions:
- Do you play outside after school?
- Do you play sports?
- Do you eat breakfast?
- What is the best part of you?
- Do you think you are a good friend?
- Do you dream?
- Do you brush your teeth every day?
Social Survey Questions:
- How many friends do you have?
- Are you kind to your friends?
- Do you like to play alone or with friends?
- Do you eat alone or with friends/family?
Emotional Survey Questions:
- Do you feel safe at home?
- Do you feel safe at school?
- Do you like yourself?
- How do you feel about yourself?
- How do you learn best?
Activity D – Spiritual, Emotional
The team shifted traditional teaching/thinking to intentionally focus on blending wellness into class activities. Christian Contemplation, mindfulness, six minutes for jokes, and a Kindness Jar changed the learning environment and the wellness atmosphere within the class environment. Baby steps brought forth enormous results: fewer class management issues, engaged students, richer conversations, students helping each other, and productive learning moments.
Activity E – Spiritual, Emotional
Through a military moral project titled Operation Impact, the team was approached to outreach to our military who are serving overseas. It was requested that we share our new found love for laughter by composing jokes (knock-knock jokes were a hit) to send to our Canadian “superheroes” overseas. Students giggled their way through adding illustrations to their jokes, messages that “Jesus loves you,” and organizing their material into booklets or joke jars called “Happy Jars.” Happy Jars were filled with kind messages intended to put a smile on a soldier’s (our superhero’s) face. Brilliant student smiles were evident when two letters were sent to our school from soldiers overseas expressing their gratitude in our support toward their moral project.
Activity F – Physical, Social
The team expanded the wellness lessons to include active physical movement. Weekly skating sessions and snowshoeing lessons were included in our Grade 1 schedule. Walking 10 minutes to the local arena brought friends together in conversation. Parent volunteers laced up their skates to join the students for their one-hour skating session. This action further promoted a positive connection between school and home in developing holistic wellness.
Activity G – Spiritual, Social
The team wanted to bring back old-fashioned game boards as an alternative to screen time and as a proactive solution to wellness. We found a local Ontario company (Family Pastimes Co-operative Games) that sold interactive, co-operative games such as Hugs & Tickles, A Beautiful Place, Together, Skyscraper and Peaceable Places. Scholastic also had a range of co-operative games available. The games met our wellness needs by recognizing His Word, His Actions, and caring for each other while caring for our Mother Earth.
Activity H – Social
The team became creative in connecting His Word to our world. Finding Kindness Bingo (free) on Teacher Pay Teacher was cause for celebration. This activity tied together all of the rich features to Student Wellness in Catholic Schools. Kindness Bingo (together with our Kindness Jar) connected nicely to our daily reminders of What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD?).
Activity I – Social, Emotional, Physical, Intellectual, Spiritual
The team invited three guest speakers from our board to visit for 40 minutes with each of our three Grade 1 classes: Tony Cosentino, Religious and Family Life Education Resource Teacher; Sandy Brenna, Safe Schools Lead; and Rebecca Paulsen, Mental Health Lead. They used games, music and role-playing to equip students with Wellness strategies.
- Working within a budget
- Transparent communication with all stakeholders
- Blending new learning opportunities into existing (curriculum) schedules
- Scheduling supply teachers
Enhancing Student Learning and Development
What have the students learned?
The journey, although slow, has been meaningful and deliberate in focusing on putting wellness at the forefront of all learning. This project has brought a sense of peace, serenity and holistic wellness to the Grade 1 students, teachers and support team. Exit cards, surveys and student voice documented and directed our journey.
Dialogue produced conversations of collaboration as teachers shared student success stories of the past and present. Inside and outside of the Grade 1 classroom, there was an authentic interest in our students, the challenges they have faced and the resilience they were building.
What has the staff learned?
This has brought the entire school staff closer together. Through witnessing our journey, the excitement of creating their own TLC projects has been fuelled. Each member of the team has grown closer to understanding the wellness issues faced within the classroom, staffroom and playground. We have united through our collaboration in ways that are viewed as priceless gifts. We have formed trusted friendships. We have developed a bond of professionalism. We have grown as Catholic leaders. We are truly grateful for the TLC experience. A staff survey explored the opportunity of sustaining and maintaining this journey for the next school year.
Through walking beside our Grade 1 teaching team, teachers saw the blessing that the TLC project offers to small groups of teachers who are interested in active research initiatives.
A Heart of Gratitude – Sharing:
- Staff meetings
- Staff room
- Learning Lunches
- Board Leads
- Social media
Questions we still have:
- What is going on in the lives of our students that we need such an emphasis on “wellness”?
- How can we make sure our student wellness toolkit continues to develop in years to come?
- Who supports the wellness of educators so they are fully equipped to meet the wellness needs of their students?
- How can capacity be built within schools in order to sustain and maintain wellness initiatives (both for students and teachers)?