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How a new curriculum is helping middle grade students socially and emotionally
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Dawson County Junior High School. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Over the summer, Dawson County Middle and Dawson County Junior High School decided to switch to a new social and emotional learning curriculum to help students adopt lifelong mindsets for success.

Now halfway through the school year, DCMS Principal Dr. Randi Sagona and DCJHS Principal Connie Stovall presented how the new curriculum is being embraced by the students in its first semester during the Dec. 10 board of education meeting.

The 7 Mindsets curriculum was created after three years of research and over 400 personal interviews that developed into seven mental habits most prevalent in the research participants.

“They had a group of researchers that went out and really looked at people throughout history, both living and those that are deceased, to look to see is there something that was in common between all of these people,” Stovall said. “What they found out was it didn’t really have a lot to do with the family background. It didn’t have so much to do with how much money you made, whether you were rich or poor growing up. Those kinds of things didn’t matter. It didn’t really matter about whether you were from a broken home or an intact family. Those weren’t the things that mattered. What mattered to the success of these people as they interviewed them were those seven concepts in the seven mindsets.”

In the summer, Stovall and Sagona researched the new social and emotional learning curriculum they wanted to implement, looking for a program that would tie in with the schools’ current initiatives and create cohesion between the two campuses.

“For me the thing that was really important was we had rolled out Sources of Strength, which is a suicide prevention program which is hugely important to our students, and we were also very entrenched already in PBIS so for the middle school I can say we were looking for something that could somehow tie all of that together,” Sagona said. “We were definitely looking for something that had more continuity and a closer tie-in with those other pieces to really bring the wellbeing of our children altogether.”

The mindsets consist of: everything is possible, passion first, we are connected, 100% accountable, attitude of gratitude, live to give and the time is now. The curriculum is taught in 28 lessons throughout the year. Lessons include encouraging students to embrace creativity and dream big, exploring their passions and interests, building positive relationships with others, growing through life and being accountable for your actions, expressing gratitude, making a difference, creating a legacy, embracing every moment and acting with purpose.

“It is a mindset that they can take with them no matter what they do and for us, what I see…is that it’s a culture-changer for your building, not just for your children but for your adults who are teaching these concepts to the children,” Stovall said. “This is truly a social and emotional program that teaches our children how to have grit, how to have resilience and how to muster through things so that they can reach that point of success.”

“The real gift I think is that if we’re preparing our students for the junior high, the mindsets do not change,” Sagona said. “Lessons change by grade level but the mindsets and the four core areas within each mindset do not change, and that was really important to us.”

Mindset lessons and activities are taught at the junior high during DEN time on Mondays and Wednesdays which has included journaling lists of things students are grateful for, writing letters thanking an influential educator in their lives and tying in lessons with the Sources of Strength program.

“What Sources of Strength really does is it has gratitude as one of the sources of strength, and the way that it is supposed to help them in the way of suicide prevention is to make them lean into the strengths they have inside of them and one of those is being appreciative and grateful for what you have instead of looking on the bad side of what you don’t,” Stovall said.

At the middle school, teachers implement Mindset lessons into the school’s PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) to reinforce the established program.

“As part of the mindset instruction the teachers kind of stretch it to include that and have the students figure out where does this fit within our PROWL matrix,” Sagona said.

The PROWL matrix stands for: persevere, reach out with kindness, own your actions, willing to put others first and lead with integrity. Students use their Mindset activities to determine how the mindsets fit in to their PROWL objectives.

Though 7 Mindsets has only been implemented at the schools for one semester, both Stovall and Sagona attest to its positive impact on the students as they prepare for the next grade level.

 “It is making a difference in our students,” Stovall said.

“It really is changing our schools,” Stovall added.