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Everything I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Life Class

Tiffany Townsend
All schools have established curricula to help students develop the hard skills they will need to be college and career ready. Older educational journals refer to the basics as the “three Rs” of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
But what about other “Rs” such as respect, relationship, and resilience? These soft skills help students succeed in leading healthy, balanced lives and are cultivated thoughtfully and intentionally through Ensworth’s Life class curriculum.

As Director of Counseling Dr. Ellen Reynolds recalls, the Life class curriculum has been in place at Ensworth since the 1980s. Over the course of the program and its growth, the classes have continued to address many of the same topics while incorporating new materials that better fit the time or relate to issues that are current within the community. “We use at least 40 different resources, and ultimately, we always try to tie everything we do back to our Mission,”  she says. 
 
Dr. Reynolds and fellow counselor Shari Harjo plan and collaborate together, keeping running Google Docs so they can easily shift and change things as needed. Dr. Reynolds shares, “The teachers work closely with us relative to topics and issues that are timely. And we also build off many student-led discussions and ideas. Life class is fluid; we don’t mind getting off-topic if something arises that is more important.”
 
In Kindergarten through Grade 3, Life class meets once per month with an additional responsive classroom circle once per month in Grade 3. Kindergarten students begin to learn the characteristics and skills important for living together in a community. Through stories, conversations, games, and poems, students are encouraged to be truthful, to support one another, to express gratitude, to be gentle and strong, and to appreciate and respect each others’ differences. In first grade, students develop an understanding of their relationships with others, their personal responsibility for their actions, and the power of their words. By focusing on responsibility, students examine positive self-awareness, practice making good choices, and learn how to exercise their independence.
 
As Grade 2 students begin to make more independent decisions, Life class helps them to understand the need to be inclusive, the expectation for good manners, and respect for the property of others. In third grade, students start to explore how it feels to fail and how to learn from mistakes. A study of nutrition is incorporated to help students learn the value of making healthy choices.
 
Beginning in fourth grade, Life classes meet every other schedule rotation. Fourth-grade classes discuss the expectations of friendships and how to make good decisions about friendships and peer pressure. Students consider the role and the qualities associated with a leader and develop an understanding of leadership in various settings and events. 
 
Last year, the Middle School team of Dr. Reynolds, faculty member and coach Jason Maxwell, Middle School Dean of Students Brooks Corzine, and Head of Middle School Chan Gammill began leading the Life classes for fifth grade. “We want them to have people they know before they go into Middle School; it makes that move easier for kids, for them to feel comfortable with us and know they have someone to talk to,” says Dr. Reynolds. Through a variety of games, activities, and discussions, the fifth-grade students learn about growth mindsets and building positive relationships in school and beyond. These activities include mindfulness techniques and other strategies for maintaining focus and for dealing with anxiety. 
 
In Middle School, as the topics addressed in Life class become more sensitive and potentially difficult to talk about, the classes are led by a male-female team. Much of the curriculum focuses on developing healthy relationships, both in dating and in friendships. Dr. Reynolds uses Owning Up by Rosalind Wiseman and helps students proactively set healthy boundaries. “Having honest conversations and communicating with one another in activities that sometimes are uncomfortable is important,” says Dr. Reynolds. “We really want to teach respect and tolerance in a world that is ever-changing.”
 
Grade 6 places an emphasis on the value of responsibility by teaching and practicing skills for peer mediation and conflict resolution. In seventh and eighth grade Life, through group activities and discussion, students develop cooperative attitudes for solving problems and for supporting one another. Appropriate use of technology is reviewed in the context of current events and with a focus on digital good citizenship. The classes also explore the issues of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use through guest speakers, research, presentations, and visual media.
 
By following the natural progression of childhood development, Ensworth’s Life class curriculum equips students with the knowledge, tools, and resources they will need to adapt and thrive in a changing world. Learning to maintain happy, healthy, and balanced lifestyles empowers students to live out Ensworth’s mission and become positive contributors to society.
 

 
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