In recent years, Chicagoland schools — and educational institutions across the nation — have more fully recognized the importance of non-academic skills. Math, science, and literacy classes are increasingly being taught alongside lessons in social and emotional topics like empathy, curiosity, and mindfulness.
Nowhere is this more true than at The Cove School in Northbrook. As our nation’s first school founded for the express purpose of educating students with learning disabilities, Cove’s staff and teachers have long recognized the role of such “soft skills” in post-school success. In addition to highly-individualized instruction, the school offers social opportunities to help students build peer groups — and confidence.
To that end, each year The Cove School chooses a non-academic theme. For example, last year’s theme was “spark” with the idea of igniting students to succeed; the year before focused on “finding your outstanding” in recognition of the fact that we all have different ways of being outstanding. This year, Cove has woven the simple, but powerful, idea of “courage” throughout its curriculum. From the courage that it takes for teachers to keep digging deeper to find the right way to help a child, to a student persevering to learn, the idea is to celebrate examples of courage, big and small.
The school’s Clinical Director, Jan Morgan, says, “Courage is fostered through infusing a growth mindset across all activities.” You have to be brave to attempt a new skill and The Cove School is celebrating those tenacious tries. Olivia Gembis, a Junior High teacher at Cove, says that learning from your mistakes (which are inevitable, especially when learning something new) takes courage.
In fact, teachers at the school note that even seemingly small acts like asking a question, giving a high five, and taking a deep breath to listen to your gut are acts that require bravery and deserve notice. To that end, students can earn “courage coupons” in class for which they can win fun community-building prizes like playing “pie in the face” with the principal or hot cocoa while they work on a special project.
We asked the teachers at Cove how they’ve seen their students demonstrate their growing courage and here’s a sampling of their insights — which also serve as a good reminder to seek out and recognize such positive behaviors in the children and adults in our own lives:
- “When students open up a new book and read it for the first time.” — Regina Aniolowski, Elementary & Junior High Principal
- “Participation in musical productions, athletics, student council, Nora Project [a program teaching the value of empathy and inclusion], etc.” — Mark Ditthardt, District Liaison
- “Trying things that are hard.” — Julie Browne, High School Teacher
- “Walking through the door.” — Jill Burris, Administrative Assistant
- “Advocating for what you need.” Molly Green, Speech & Language Pathologist
These deep, human lessons aren’t lost on the students regardless of their age. In fact, Cove students from elementary through high school had a lot to say when we asked them what courage means to them and how they show that they’re brave:
- “Being kind to one another.” — Elementary student
- “Filling buckets [referring to a metaphor about filling others’ emotional ‘buckets’ with kindness and consideration from the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?“].” — Elementary student
- “I am courageous when I’m helping people with math problems.” — Junior High student
- “I am courageous when I present in front of a lot of people.” — Junior High student
- “I am courageous when I make new friends.” — Junior High student
- “Persevere through hard challenges — High School student
- “Learning how to arrange flowers.” — High School student
All of this bravery will be necessary for these students — and all children — as they leave the warm, nurturing environments of their schools to venture out into the world. At Cove, students don’t only experiment with courage in the classroom, but also in that transition by preparing for real life with training in budgeting, comparison shopping, consumer protection, career courses, and more. The individualized student-focused curriculum paired with building emotional intelligence makes for well-prepared students — and citizens.
To learn more about all that The Cove School has to offer, or to look into educational options for your own child, visit their website to set up a tour of the school.
To support the wonderful opportunities being offered at The Cove School, consider supporting their annual benefit on Feb. 22 — with its theme this year of (what else?) “Courage.” The event is so fun and the work so worthy that two-thirds of benefit attendees aren’t even parents of children at the school. The sophisticated evening raises funds for school programs like those created to develop all-important courage, as well as investments in technology, teacher training, scholarships, and more.