Amy Ward is an invaluable team member at the St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC). She works to integrate mindfulness into the school curriculum and advocates for the myriad benefits of this practice in educational settings.
RiseVT caught up with Amy to discuss her work and accomplishments as a RiseVT collaborator:
What is her role and focus as SATEC School Counselor?
Amy is a School Counselor at SATEC and holds a master’s degree and licenses in both special education and as a school counselor. Her work involves case management of educational support team plans, teaching in the classroom, and working with students in groups and individually. She is also a co-coordinator for their Vermont Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (VTPBIS) team; This statewide effort improves social and academic competence in students through a proactive systems approach.
How has RiseVT supported Amy’s work?
RiseVT and Amy initially connected through their mutual focus on healthy lifestyles and overall wellbeing. Since then, Amy has worked with RiseVT team members to hold workshops on self-regulation through mindfulness and using yoga in the classroom. RiseVT sponsored SATEC teachers to go to professional development sessions such as Yoga and Mindfulness in the Classroom and trainings for how to disseminate the information. Additionally, RiseVT grants have provided funding for resources like mindfulness activity cards, flexible seating options and hands-on activities for families and students. Thanks to advocates like Amy, SATEC has been able to incorporate teachings such as “Drop Everything and Be Mindful,” which reinforces positive methods for self-regulation, and MindUP, an educational program based in neuroscience and mindful practice.
What is mindfulness?
Per mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
How would you describe the value of mindfulness and your work?
Any time Amy teaches classes, she strives to moments of mindfulness at both the beginning and end of the session. In her own words: “When students feel comfortable, regulated, and calm, they are better able to learn.” Mindfulness practices can help anxious students with recalling information for tests. They can also make students more aware when they are operating on high or low speed, then help them re-center to the appropriate speed for the situation, whether it’s a test or a social scenario or other potential stressor. In essence, they can help students learn, perform, and behave better/make better choices! The benefits of mindful curriculum also extend to teachers in better supporting their students.
What are the pressing issues you think need attention?
The state of Vermont released a Vermont Education Recovery Plan for schools to follow for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the major parts discusses the importance of attention to mental health. Though funding may be available, the financial piece isn’t enough if there are not enough resources. For example, families may have the insurance and budget for a therapist, but many therapists may have a waitlist. To better prepare for recovery and to assist families, educators and public health professionals are looking at data to identify areas of need. “Before we address academic concerns, we’ll need to focus on relationships and the mental health portion of recovery. Unless you’re mentally ready to learn, you won’t be able to learn much. Getting our community back on track emotionally, physically, and mentally will be essential.” RiseVT and similar organizations may be able to provide resources and educational materials to help the community cope when resources are scarce.
What are your hopes for the future, beyond COVID-19 recovery?
One of Amy’s goals: to develop a more solid curriculum for social and emotional development at a universal level. Consider the fact that there are curriculum and assessments for subject areas such as math, reading, and writing; Why not include social/emotional curriculum? Learning approaches such as Responsive Classroom may help develop this curriculum. A more structured approach to the mental health component of childhood development will support guidance counselors in their work. In short, Amy hopes to leave a lasting impact in her community and provide the guidance counselors of the future enhanced ability to help families and educators better manage student stress and struggles.
What else would you like to share with the community?
Amy noted that through the temporary business closures of the pandemic, it became apparent that there aren’t a ton of activities for 8-10th grade students in our community because many aren’t old enough to work or drive, leaving this age group in a sort of “limbo” over the past year. The St. Albans Community Pool, which was approved at the 2021 Town Meeting Day, will be a great addition for our community and our future generations.