Partnership schools address social and emotional needs of students

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Individuals who choose to work in a Catholic School have a tremendous responsibility. Along with educating the child in the standard subjects, it is also the calling of these educators and staff members to address and enhance the spiritual well-being of each student. Everything that they know and teach is centered in Christ. All Catholic schools provide a faith-based education, which helps each student build and deepen their relationship with Christ and learn about Catholic principles, values, and traditions. This includes what Jesus taught and gifted to the Church. This not only includes values, such as kindness, mercy, and service, but also makes the faith active and fruitful. Prayer is a daily necessity and practice.

Students start and end each day with prayer, but more importantly, when the community, individual student, or family face difficulties, we pray together as one family. Like each family home, the classroom is modeled on the Family of Nazareth, the Holy Family. Our schools are also blessed to be part of a parish, and so there is a priest presence in the classroom and when we celebrate Mass during the week. At Sacred Heart School, children in grades one through four attend Mass once a week. Kindergarten and Pre-K students are able to watch Mass virtually while they learn and prepare to attend on their own. At St. Francis Xavier School, students in each grade host Liturgy once a month, along with Holy Days and special celebration. Holy Days and lives of the saints are also celebrated as part of the curriculum at both schools.

Schools are opening under "normal" circumstances, following two years of uncertainty and unprecedented circumstances, the Partnership Schools of Sacred Heart and St. Francis Xavier have implemented measures to address the social and emotional health of their students. The isolation they felt with remote learning, and the lack of social interaction upon their return has had a measurable impact on their social and emotional well-being. Whether children are facing anxiety because of fear surrounding the pandemic, unpredictable routines, loss of a loved one, or witnessing the stress within their own families, they need more support.

A Social Emotional Learning Program has been implemented at Sacred Heart School, utilizing the Second Step Elementary School Digital Platform. A health needs assessment was undertaken as part of the 10-year Massachusetts Department of Public Health Comprehensive School Health Services grant received by Julie Carragher RN/NP in 2021, and both a faculty and a family health needs assessment survey reported that mental health was a challenging health issue in our schools today. Some of the issues identified in this survey included: difficulty with social skills, such as talking, playing with others and general kindness to other students, inability to problem solve, poor knowledge of stress reduction techniques, impaired self-concept, lack of impulse control, and appropriate coping strategies, lack of resiliency, increased student verbalizations of stress, poor sleeping habits and exhaustion. In addition, there are frequent life stressors impacting our students, and the Second Step SEL Program is one component of social emotional learning aimed at developing a holistic approach to educating our children.

Another program that the Partnership Schools implemented to address the social, emotional, and behavioral health of the "whole child" is the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Program (PBIS). PBIS is a proactive approach to promoting school safety and good behavior. Students are encouraged to do the right thing, and they are rewarded for doing so. Students and teachers are all Voyagers in pursuit of the greater good, with Faith at the helm. St. Francis Xavier School has completed its first year of PBIS, and Sacred Heart is beginning its inaugural year! Monthly Goals are the areas focused on by the whole school, and teachers and staff are on the lookout for students displaying acts that reflect the month's attribute. Students are then awarded with Ship Chips to keep track of progress in meeting each goal. PBIS awards are earned first by individuals, then as a homeroom, and finally with a schoolwide celebration. An example of a monthly goal is Leadership. Teachers would be on the lookout for accountability, compassion, and teamwork. Once that goal is accomplished by each homeroom, students receive a reward, and once all homerooms achieve the goal, students, staff, and faculty choose a schoolwide celebration, which reinforces the benefit of making the right choices. This program creates a positive and team-oriented atmosphere within the school.

Now, more than ever, the Partnership Schools of Sacred Heart and St. Francis Xavier have recognized the need for specialized teachers and counselors with the training and expertise to work with children whose learning styles do not always fit into a typical educational model. The middle school years present their own unique set of challenges to children, and counselors are available to support the social and emotional needs of students on a one-on-one basis. Along with these programs, our students, as always, are enveloped by a nurturing and faith-filled body of staff, faculty, and clergy. The children spend each day learning and playing within an atmosphere that embodies the gift and presence of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the virtues and missionary zeal of St. Francis Xavier. We are Catholic in what we teach. Each day, we bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our schools welcome students and families from all faith traditions who desire an excellent education and who desire to participate fully in the life of our schools and our parishes. Through St. Francis Xavier's intercession and the witness of our faculty and families, 16 candidates from Sacred Heart School families were baptized last year, and several parents came to the altar to have their marriages blessed. Such celebrations of the sacraments of our Church is "Good News," indeed! The partnership of Sacred Heart and St. Francis Xavier schools has borne much fruit. Each day, our faculty and staff commit to sowing the seeds of faith, hope, and love of Jesus and of one another in their students. Such seeds will bear the "fruit" that will positively impact the rest of their lives. Our partnership continues to grow with many diverse countries of origin represented and welcome. Our mission is to fulfill the Lord's call and gift to the Church ". . . Go and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28: 19ff) This is the work of the New Evangelization!


Lisa Schmiemann is communications director for the Partnership Schools of Sacred Heart and St. Francis Xavier, Braintree and Weymouth.