Elementary School

Bridges at Mount Vernon: Celebrating Strengths for Behavioral, Social, and Emotional Support

By Heather Hill

The Bridges Program is an alternative setting in Wake County Public Schools for students with a higher need for behavioral, social, and emotional support. We embrace our students with a mindset that they do well when they can. When the traditional school setting has not proven to be a comfortable or accessible setting for our students, we take on the responsibility to help them do and be their best. We have found that the mismatch of a traditional school setting and our students’ needs often leads to a negative internal dialog for our students, sometimes including negative self-perception and poor self-esteem. These negative self-perceptions do not always help our students do their best. Finding and understanding their strengths does not always come naturally for many of our students. At the Bridges Program, The Positivity Project serves as a strengths-based tool, with a strengths-based vocabulary, to help us teach our students ways to shift their mindsets, promote better self-understanding, and support self-regulation.

A shift is occurring within our building to focus more on how to support student social and emotional growth through trauma-informed practices, mindfulness, supporting the learning and practicing of coping skills, use of the Zones of Regulation curriculum, The Positivity Project, and direct teaching of social skills. These tools aid our students’ understanding of the self, and that understanding comes with better self-regulation. Bridges’ students are learning a new vocabulary to understand themselves and the relationships they are building with each other and staff. They are working to find everyday examples of character strengths and their growing knowledge supports their response to specialized instruction for self-regulation, emotion identification, mindfulness, and social skills, which are foundational for our unique programming. We celebrate our students’ strengths regularly using the daily P2 lessons, stickers for immediate recognition when they demonstrate behavior consistent with character strength, and a bulletin board where we proudly display examples of character strengths we’ve seen around campus. The explicit teaching and recognition of these character strengths help our students learn more about themselves, their peers, their teachers, and their relationships.

While our P2 focus is primarily to support a stronger self-understanding and promote stronger relationships among students and staff, we cannot neglect the benefits of building our student’s language comprehension through their expanding vocabulary in response to P2. Our students also benefit academically from learning and reading about the 24-character strengths and the Other People Mindset. We are gearing up for a parent night to teach our parents about The Positivity Project, promote discussion about how to use the newfound P2 vocabulary at home, and encourage discussion about the character strengths while reading with their children. We send the P2 Character Cards home weekly to support ongoing conversations about our student’s strengths, and those of their family members, as well as to help build familiarity with a strengths-based language. Conversations about the experiences of the characters they read about in ELA, encouraging one another while solving challenging math problems, talking about historical figures in media, and expressing open-mindedness or creativity in art, P2 is becoming a part of our culture at Bridges, and it has bled into all aspects of our students learning. At Bridges, there is an intention of celebrating what our students do well, in addition to an ongoing effort to support them when they don’t do their best, no matter the situation.

We are still new to P2 practices, though stickers with the words Teamwork, Creativity, Bravery, and Integrity have been worn proudly by each one of our students, and many of our staff members! When asked about these stickers, our students beam with pride and give you a detailed account of how they demonstrated that specific strength. Our bulletin board includes many accounts of bravery for having tough conversations, open-mindedness for trying something new in class, and moments of working together with classmates during a lesson. These acknowledgments have come mostly from students. Teachers are sprinkling the P2 language into their academic lessons. These are the hints that there is a greater shift in the Bridge Program’s culture and practices on the horizon due to P2, we can sense it!

Heather Hill

Heather Hill has been a school psychologist for 11 years, though only four of those years have been in schools utilizing the Positivity Project partnership. She has admired how the Positivity Project improves relationships, a sense of community, and student and staff understanding of self. Her top three strengths are Love, Kindness, and Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence. When not working, she enjoys doing yoga, crafting with her 4-year-old daughter, taking walks in nature, running, quilting, listening to her husband’s jokes, and Snickers bars!