With support from Lions Australia, students at Evanston Gardens Primary School are learning about social and emotional communication.
After the tragic death of two Evanston Gardens Primary School (EGPS) students in May last year, the school introduced a social and emotional language program, Kimochis, to help the classes most affected.
The program – created in the US by Nina Rappaport Rowan, the executive producer of animated film Despicable Me – uses toy characters as a way for children to identify and express their feelings. The Kimochis were so effective, the program is now being utilised by the whole school.
“We first introduced the program because we believed it would give us a common language to talk with the students about emotions, which would also be accessible to young students, and that they would engage with and enjoy,” says Mary Ackers, a pastoral care worker at EGPS. “We have found it does all this and more.”
The program expansion was made possible after EGPS received a $1000 Community 100 grant from the local Angle Vale Lions club in September 2016. Dot Lewtas, club president who has been with Lions for 17 years, says the application stood out as it, “benefits all children and their feelings”.
The grant covered the cost of staff training and program resources, such as the character dolls and pillows, which depict different emotions.
Now a year later, Mary sees the value of the program “in small moments of success every day”.
“Recently, we went through the feeling ‘Left Out,’ discussing what it looks like when someone is feeling left out, how we can help someone who is feeling this way – by including them– or how we might help ourselves if we’re feeling left out, by being brave and asking to join a new group of friends.
“That week in the yard, I noticed a student looking upset and before I was able to go over to ask what was wrong, two other students from the same class had gone over to check on the other student ‐ the student was soon playing happily with their friends.”
“Students are learning to solve small problems on their own, before they become big issues,” Mary continues. “We also see students’ emotional vocabulary improving, and they often surprise us with the way they describe how they’re feeling.”
It’s not just the students benefitting, but the staff, too. “Our school community love Kimochis. Staff have found it very valuable in helping students to solve issues in the classroom and the yard,” says Mary. “Because there is a common language, any staff member can engage any student in these conversations, even if they don’t ordinarily teach that student.”
Story by Lizza Gebilagin for Country Style Magazine