In the stairwell of the Lower School building, a colorful display of drawings invites passersby to scan QR codes to hear advice from Little Calhouners. The audio recordings play the voices of Calhoun’s youngest students, sharing tips about how to express and manage feelings, how to be a good friend, and how to be an upstanding community member. The installation, “A Little Spot of Calhoun,” is the culmination of an interdisciplinary project bringing together STEAM and literacy, and highlighting the essential social-emotional learning work that happens in Lower School classrooms.
The project originated when Alison Leveque, Lower School—Early Childhood Learning Support Coordinator, heard about Peptoc, a hotline created by kindergartners in California that people can dial to hear encouraging words from the students. After helping organize the Lower School’s activism assembly, Alison was inspired to create a project that could act as children’s own form of activism. Alison teamed up with Lower School Counselor Lauren Feiden and STEAM teacher Jessica Cathcart, and together they created an interactive wall showcasing students’ advice, where any community member can go for an uplifting dose of kindness.
Each grade at Little Calhoun was given a different, developmentally appropriate prompt for their advice based on the social-emotional learning (SEL) work they do during structured class time with Lauren. For example, 3’s students recorded tips in response to the question, “What can you do when you feel mad, sad, or worried?” while first graders answered, “What life advice can you give others?” Students practiced storytelling and public speaking while recording their own words, and made drawings to accompany their advice. They strengthened their facility and agency with technology by using software to generate digital audio recordings.
The project was also a touchpoint with the SEL skills that Little Calhouners are exploring. The prompts for the advice wall connected back to the A Little SPOT series of books that Lauren reads with students to help them examine emotions. Both in their dedicated SEL class time and woven throughout different subjects, students learn important life skills such as social awareness, emotional coping mechanisms and self-advocacy. These are competencies that are foundational to their academic success. “[Through SEL work] children are building a toolkit for life,” explains Lauren. “We’re setting them up to be successful, to be able to handle anything that comes their way, and to be productive citizens.”
The intentional spotlight on SEL has contributed to important growth in students. Teachers and counselors have shared observations on how students have become better able to express their own feelings or identify a peer’s feelings when something is upsetting, and are readily using the social-emotional tools in their classwork when things are more challenging. The kindness wall project further enforced these lessons and led to rich discussions in the classroom inspired by their classmates’ contributions.
“[Through SEL work] children are building a toolkit for life. We’re setting them up to be successful, to be able to handle anything that comes their way, and to be productive citizens.” Lauren Feiden, Lower School Counselor
Already the kindness wall has become a positive community-building tool, one that children and their families continue to return to. For the students, it’s been exciting for them to see their voices and ideas on display, and to learn from their peers’ advice. Adults, too, have taken something from the children’s words that span beyond their young years – proof that the skills students are building are ones we can all grow from.