By Corie Stone, M.Ed., Instructional Supervisor at Sage Day Rochelle Park
Over the past several years, education reform, standards, and assessments have focused on making sure students are “career and college ready.” The idea behind many of these initiatives is that there are a certain set of skills to be mastered and a collection of knowledge to be learned that will prepare students for higher education or professional experience. While the basic premise of this idea is true, after working with high school students for thirteen years, in public and private education, with students with a vast range of gifts and challenges, I have come to find that the single most important thing for students to learn about is themselves.
Students need to know who they are and how they operate in order to become their best selves in the classroom and beyond. They need to know how to navigate through feelings of frustration and anxiety; they need to know when and how to ask for help or clarification. They need to know how to balance taking care of themselves, mentally and physically, and challenging themselves to always grow and improve. They need to know that they are worthy and capable of success.
At Sage Day, the staff meets twice a week to make sure we are using the most innovative and effective strategies to help students experience that success. Teachers and clinicians work together to best understand students so that we can create an optimal learning environment. We aim to create an environment where children can be challenged, supported, and engaged. In many cases, we must meet students where they are in order to get them moving towards where they need to be. To be fair, even an optimal environment isn’t always perfect, and we often have to adjust and modify as we learn more about the student and they learn more about themselves.
However, some of the most important lessons they learn here do not just happen in the classroom. They may happen in the therapy office, or in the kitchen preparing our annual Thanksgiving Feast, or on the stage at the Arts Festival. Those lessons, where they learn how to advocate for themselves, figure out how to work with others, or overcome fears, will impact all of their future learning experiences. Those are the lessons that they will be able to apply no matter where they head after Sage Day.
When our alumni recently returned, one of them reflected, “When you leave here, you have to be able to ask for help. You need to reach out to other people.” Another said, “You have to do what is right for you. You have to find your path.” As our current seniors sat listening to the stories of those who have walked before them, I thought about the incredible value of these lessons. I was so proud that these former students not only learned and applied these lessons but that they were able to share them, as well. This is how some of the most powerful social and emotional learning takes place.
The truth is, until students have mastered themselves, they will not be fully available to master other skills or information. Pythagoras, Darwin, and Dickens are important, but they will always be there. In order to learn the lessons of those great scholars, students must be willing to study themselves first. And, as an educational community, we must prepare, encourage, and support them in that endeavor. As an educator, that’s the most important lesson I have learned