MCCSC to test pilot of brain and emotional education program


Cyrilla Helm, Executive Director of the Foundation of Monroe County Community Schools, addresses the Board of School Trustees of the Monroe County Community School Corporation on Tuesday at the MCCSC Administration Center. Bari Goldman and Bari Goldman

Monroe County Community School Corporation will soon be host to a neuroscience program pilot.

Neuroscientist and Bloomington native Jill Bolte Taylor and MCCSC Director of Elementary Education Tammy Miller presented the program to MCCSC trustees at their Tuesday meeting. Bolte Taylor will work with three Bloomington elementary schools to implement curriculum about the brain and understanding emotions.

The curriculum comes from a training program called MindUP, developed by the Hawn Foundation. MindUP is designed to teach students social and emotional learning skills while teaching them about their brains. Bolte Taylor said she was consulted on neuroanatomical aspects of the curriculum but told the foundation she wouldn’t publicly advocate for it until she saw how it worked in her hometown.

“It gives me a way for personally integrating myself more and educating kids about the brain and getting them excited about the brain for the future,” she said. “It’s personal for me that way.”

Bolte Taylor pointed out that test anxiety is high among students in K-12, board members nodding as she spoke. She said she believes this program could help students manage that anxiety and understand more about their emotional accountability because it will teach students about parts of the brain related to their emotions.

Though the program is starting at MCCSC elementary schools, Bolte Taylor told the board the program could eventually cover all students K-12.

“I would love to see Bloomington be one of the most conscious towns on the planet in 10 to 15 years because we started with the little people,” she said. “To be able to consciously choose, to focus on your sensory systems or your movement in the current moment, helps you step out of the anxiety circuit and observe it.”

In response to board questions, Miller said the curriculum could be rolled out for other schools, allowing teachers who have been trained in MindUP to train others.

“That’s the vision, but there’s no calendar,” Miller said. “This year is overwhelming for teachers. We’re trying to be cognizant of that.”

A pilot version of MindUP will launch next semester at MCCSC, providing materials and training to teachers at Arlington, Clear Creek and Marlin elementary schools.

“Ultimately it’s going to create a peaceful environment,” Bolte Taylor said. “If I have the ability to calm myself ... then I don’t need an ?external regulation.”

After Bolte Taylor and others presented curriculum updates to the board, several members of the public spoke during the public comment period of the Tuesday meeting to voice concerns about parents’ access to the board and school administrators, as well as addressing feedback.

Cathy Fuentes-Rohrer, chairwoman of the Monroe County chapter for anti-voucher advocacy group Indiana Coalition for Public Education, asked the board to address issues raised in the midterm elections. District 7 representative Jeannine Butler won by a slim margin of about 300 votes, while District 1 board member Kelly Smith won with less than 50 percent of the popular vote.

“It was not a show of confidence in the board or validation of a job well-done,” Fuentes-Roher said, reading from a prepared statement. “The overall sense is that you all are not hearing their concerns.”

Jenny Robinson, who spoke later in the public comment period, suggested the board encourage feedback from parent-teacher organizations as well as encouraging school administrators and teachers to be in close contact with parents.

“I would love to see reinstated those community conversations that were opportunities for parents to talk to you as a board,” Robinson said. “The follow-through is also important, not just that people be able to say their piece.”

The school board also heard updates on other aspects of MCCSC curriculum, including an update on MCCSC’s collaboration with Monroe County Public Library to improve student access to reading materials and online resources.

MCPL director Sara Laughlin told the board she believes it’s important for the two groups to work together to teach local children.

“When you’re keeping them busy, we’re not as busy,” Laughlin said. “They really are our shared children.”

The collaboration included registering every MCCSC student for a library card, said MCCSC Director of Secondary Education Jan Bergeson.

MCCSC and MCPL also worked together to provide more student-specific online resources like World Book Encyclopedia and Culturegrams, which Bergeson said was positively correlated with a spike in web traffic on the children’s services page of the MCPL website.

“We know that children with easy access to reading materials read more frequently,” Laughlin said. “You develop more comprehension skills by practicing, practicing, practicing.”

Finally, the board voted unanimously to accept about $6,800 in cash and merchandise donations to MCCSC schools this month, to be used for items from choir T-shirts to field trips.

The next MCCSC board of trustees meeting will be Dec. 16 in the corporation’s administration building at 315 E. North Drive in Bloomington.

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