Program improves students' emotional strength


A weekly workshop takes place for sixth graders at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael. You know it's not your typical class, when the adult leading them begins by passing around M&M's. Identifying their emotions and expressing them with "I feel" statements is step one in giving students a toolbox, to deal with the challenges of being pre-teens -- whether it's bullying, social problems, low self-esteem, or family conflicts.

"The notion behind it is crisis and challenges are inevitable in life, what really matters are your ability to deal with it, the choices that you make," said Executive Director of Corstone Steve Leventhal.

Corstone is a Sausalito based non-profit that's bringing its successful resiliency-training program to a school for the first time. The first part of the curriculum teaches students to better understand their own emotions and strengths.

"When I had a quiz in science, I got 19 out of 20 and I was really proud of myself," said a student.

The second part of the curriculum improves students' interpersonal skills through active listening and empathy -- something sixth graders don't often receive when they try to open themselves up to their friends.

"They'll think you're just joking around, trying to be funny. But you're really trying to express your feelings," said 6th grader Will Perkins.

The third part of the curriculum focuses on problem-solving. Students learn to ask a series of questions to resolve a conflict.

"You should just be calm, try to ask the person 'why are you upset with me?' or 'what did I do wrong that makes you want to have an argument with me?" said 6th grader Sophie Jonak.

Dr. Harriet McLean is the principal at Davidson and believes the Corstone has made a difference in just a few short months.

"They're starting to learn how to resolve conflicts positively, and talk to each other about their differences," said Dr. McLean.

"Eventually what we see is in the playground in particular, when an incident comes up, the kids will call a circle right there on the playground; they keep the teachers and monitors out of the way and they deal with the issue themselves," said Leventhal.

The Corstone program operates in 50 countries through grants, but for it to continue at Davidson beyond this year, and to expand to some of the dozens of other schools that have expressed interest, the non-profit needs more funding support.

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