Meeting Students Where They Are
Oakland Military Institute (OMI) sits in the center of Oakland, California. Students travel from across the Bay Area to attend the seven-year College Preparatory Academy. As these young adults walk through the school doors, they carry more than their backpacks. Many of OMI’s students have experienced trauma at home, or an adverse childhood experience (ACE), which makes coming to school engaged and ready to learn an obstacle. Finding programs to meet students social and emotional needs became a priority for the OMI administrative team:
“When students are carrying these challenges it’s difficult for them to remain focused. We needed to find something that could help our students work through these challenging emotions so they’re able to learn.” - Cesley Frost, Middle School Principal
OMI was founded in 2001; it was the first charter school to be sponsored by the state as well as the first public military school. Serving a diverse and socio economically disadvantaged community for grades 6 through 12, the college preparatory academy is focused on changing lives and contributing successful college bound leaders while instilling a real ethic of honor, leadership and self discipline. OMI believes in meeting students where they are and does what it takes to support students to “Do well whatever you do.” OMI focuses on excellence within academics, leadership, citizenship and athletics.
At the beginning of 2017, staff members from OMI visited Caliber Enrichment, who had begun using mindfulness practices to begin each school day. After seeing the positive response from Caliber’s students and teachers first hand, they decided to implement their own social emotional learning (SEL) program.
In the spring of 2017 one middle school and one high school classroom began piloting the Move This World social emotional learning program. Move This World’s program provides PreK-12 educators and students with evidence-based, developmentally digital tools to strengthen their social and emotional wellbeing. Through short videos that open and close instructional time, the program ritualizes a daily practice of identifying, expressing and managing emotions in healthy ways. After seeing success with these students, the implementation went school wide in for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Move This World offered a quick and easy solution. It was easy to implement and didn’t place a lot of work on the teachers. It helps our teacher become more aware of the challenges their students are facing and what’s going on with them every single day.” - Cesley Frost, Middle School Principal
OMI didn’t stop there - they knew that it was equally important to prioritize teacher’s wellbeing along with the students. Prior to kicking off the school year, OMI schedule two professional development sessions, facilitated by Move This World, that would focus on strengthening teacher wellbeing. This gave the teachers the opportunity to reflect on their lives, personal challenges, and a space to connect more deeply with one another. By providing teachers with this time and space, the school was better prepared to implement the student facing tools and helped to generate excitement around beginning the program. The staff has continued their wellness initiative through their monthly professionally development meetings, during which OMI’s wellness coordinator discusses self care and other wellness strategies. Staff members are encouraged to use all their leave each school year and are recognized and celebrated often for their success in and out of school through campus events, ceremonies and the schools monthly bulletin.
Since implementing Move This World, teachers have a deeper understanding of the challenges students are facing each day. Overall, there is an increased awareness that everyone is facing a variety of obstacles and emotions each day, from students and teachers to school leaders and parents. This awareness has inspired staff and students to be more open about talking through their challenges and emotions. The common language that the program has created helps the school community continue these conversations with one another. The program has also encouraged school staff to take a more trauma informed approach, and dig deeper to discover the “why” behind student behaviors.
Frost, explains: “The teachers now have more strategies to help their students, and are operating with a more trauma informed mindset. If a student is anxious or upset they can suggest a strategy specific to Move This World, such as the Shake Off or Deep Breathing, to help themselves self-regulate and calm down.”
Sixth grade English & ELD teacher teacher was so inspired by his students success after using Move This World that they began to incorporate mindfulness regularly throughout their class periods:
“This was the first year my 6th grade class started using Move This World at the beginning of the school day. What I discovered as we completed the morning rituals each day, was that students appreciated having that time and space to check in on themselves and each other; it set the tone for the rest of the day and encouraged students to focus on being positive and productive members of the OMI community. Witnessing how effective Move This World has been with my Advisory students, I decided to adopt my own mindfulness routine at the beginning of each class. With the lights off and the sound of my Tibetan singing bowl in the background, I guide students through meditation and breathing exercises to help them reset as they transition into my classroom. Once the routine is completed, students are more mentally prepared and focused enough for the day’s lesson. Incorporating mindfulness into my daily classroom rituals has been a really transformative experience because students begin class in a much better disposition and this is when the best kind of learning happens.” - Ken Kusactay 6th grade English & ELD teacher
Outside of Move This World, OMI has integrated a number of other SEL and wellness initiatives. The mental health department includes four full time counselors who meet with students regularly, in addition to a wellness coordinator who oversees foster care programs, risk assessments, safety plans and some interventions. As part of Response to Intervention, OMI also has the CARE Program which involves weekly meetings to discuss students who have been referred as possibly needing extra supports for anything from counseling to a new set of glasses. Teachers and students also participate in restorative justice programming. Both Move This World and restorative justice helps teachers know if students might need support from the mental health department or a referral to the CARE program.
As OMI looks ahead to next school year, they are dedicated to continue prioritizing the wellbeing of their students and teachers. They plan to continue Move This World’s daily exercises, restorative justice programming, the CARE program, and regular celebrations throughout the school year. As part of their planning process, they’ve begun to shift their school schedule, particularly for the middle school, to better meet students social emotional needs. The school knows that by providing a schedule that gives students the time and space to strengthen their emotional wellbeing, they will be better able to approach the school day with a focused mind.