Experiencing Joy at Prospect Sierra

November 4, 2019

Joy is watching first graders in colab work through their partnership by offering endless suggestions for compromise. Joy is listening to our third graders share their process and pride  in the detailed work of their insect drawing art pieces. Joy is witnessing our fifth graders walk arm and arm down the hallways of Avis. Joy is marveling at the questions of eighth grade mathematicians as they grapple with their own thinking and the thinking of others. Joy is knowing the time, energy, and love that goes into community gatherings like Panther Picnic.

“Joy is when you are in the yellow zone.”- Helen (TK student)

When describing Prospect Sierra to family, friends, and colleagues, I have used many of the words in both the yellow and green quadrants of the Mood Meter multiple times. In fact, I can say genuinely that I have been in the yellow or green almost every day of the last three months. I find myself starting sentences with, “I know this sounds corny but…” and then follow with an effusive example of something, either big or small, from the day that brought me joy. Joy is often categorized as moments as opposed to long sustainable periods, but at Prospect Sierra joy is bursting from every seam, with big and small joyful experiences amounting to hours, weeks, and months of happiness.

Joyful communities are filled with joyful people and so it was no surprise that when I asked 4 and 5-year-olds to define the word JOY, the yellow section of the Mood Meter came to mind. This conversation, which included one child who simply walked in circles around me until the word “happy” and “love” came pouring out of her mouth, also demonstrated the impact that our social-emotional learning curriculum, specifically RULER, is having on our students. From TK to 8th grade, our students are able to explore and articulate their emotions via a language and practice that is understood by all.

It’s programs like RULER that remind us of the importance of putting emotions at the center of our learning. Whether it’s joy, frustration, unease, or excitement, research shows that our emotions impact attention, memory, and learning, along with decision making, our relationships, and our physical and mental wellbeing. In essence, our cognitive skills and behaviors partner with our emotions every day.

For example, it’s consistent practice that our eighth graders start math with some form of mental exercise. You may hear a string of problems put together in a series, each child thinking of the best strategies to achieve the same result. And while the very idea of starting class thinking about a string of problems feels worrisome for many of us who learned math in a way that produced anxiety and focused on the end product only, this exercise almost feels like the start of a good yoga class, centering the mind and getting it ready for the challenging stretch to follow. Infused with deep breaths, reflective questions, and acknowledgment of paths that took them to varying ends, math becomes a joyful experience…most of the time.

The result of such intention is a community where you can see it’s development in real time. A community that thrives is different than a community that merely survives and it’s our goal that everyone at Prospect Sierra feels the joy of growing and learning together.

Spotlight On Service Learning

Each time I write to you, I hope to highlight a part of our program that is exemplary of our mission. This week the focus is on our eighth grade service learning trip to Sacramento.

Recently, Nathan Tanaka, our middle school division head, and I drove to Sacramento to visit our eighth grade students on the third day of their five-day service learning trip. Over the course of five days, our students become even closer as a grade level, gain further proximity to communities that may be a window for most and a mirror for some, deepen their knowledge of civic engagement, and grapple with how to create change in their own society with the backdrop of the state capitol. Imagine having experiences each day that exercise your empathy muscles and pair that with being proximate to the place where sustainable change comes to fruition! We are grateful to the eighth grade team for thinking deeply about the experiences of our oldest students and providing a week that captures their Prospect Sierra journey beautifully.

I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts with you throughout the year and invite you to share your thoughts with me. Please do reach out and know that my door is always open. Bring on the JOY!

Resource: Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive