Raising Healthy Empathetic Leaders

Posted by Peggy Procter on 9/19/2023 11:00:00 AM

2023-24 Opening


Welcome to the 2023-24 school year and to my Head of School Blog! My aim is to share with you, on a monthly basis, an educational topic that is on my mind.


Each year, our marketing team selects a tagline that represents Echo Horizon’s values, and this year’s tagline is “We raise healthy empathetic leaders”. In today’s blog, I’d like to focus on the word “healthy”, as I believe there is nothing more important than the health and well-being of our children. The world we live in doesn’t make it easy, but our Echo Horizon community is committed to ensuring a healthy environment in which all children can thrive.


Unfortunately, in the past few years, which included a prolonged global pandemic, the research on the mental health of children is distressing. Data from the 2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report (NHQDR) shows that “20% of children and young people in the United States aged 3-17 have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder” and that these trends were “exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.” In the same report, a study conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) lists depression and anxiety as the biggest two disorders, having risen by 27% between 2016-2020.   


While this data is worrisome, there is reason to remain positive about the state of well-being for our students at Echo Horizon School. We carefully follow the research of Challenge Success, a program of Stanford University’s Department of Education, that looks closely at the health and wellbeing of students K-12. Dr. Denise Pope, Senior Lecturer at Stanford and Co-founder of Challenge Success, has been an inspiring parent education speaker at Echo Horizon in the past.  Challenge Success has identified five categories of change that greatly impact positive outcomes in student well-being, belonging, and engagement, titled SPACE framework, and we believe that we are doing a great job in relevant key areas. SPACE framework means:

S - supportive schedule and use of time

P - pedagogy that engages

A - alternative and authentic assessment

C - climate of care

E -  education for everyone

As an elementary school and not a middle and high school, we believe that areas P and C are the two most important ones for us, and these are the areas that I will focus on for the remainder of this blog. That said, our directors and teachers are cognizant about ensuring that our schedules, use of time, and assessments are aligned with our commitment to student health and well-being.  Furthermore, our parent education program, Flourish and JEDI programs, and our generous budget for teacher professional development demonstrate our commitment to the “E”- educating the entire community.


Under Pedagogy that Engages, Challenge Success’s framework for success includes diverse teaching strategies, culturally responsive curriculum, assignments that allow for student choice and personalization, opportunities to make meaning and connection, and balancing high expectations with appropriate care and support for all students. I feel like they are describing our pedagogy with this list! Through our hands-on, project-based STEAM and Science programming, we set high expectations and utilize diverse strategies while empowering student voice and choice. Our Flourish and JEDI programming provides teacher training to ensure that the textbooks and literature that we use and the lessons that we teach are culturally diverse and responsive. We prioritize meaning-making and connection in our classrooms, challenging students to work both independently and collaboratively and to chase the “why” in their work.  We set high expectations, but don’t damage students’ self esteem and confidence through a grading system that can demoralize students unnecessarily. We hope that you saw at Back to School Night how dynamic, creative, and engaging our teachers are and that you will follow your grade level’s curriculum this year on class pages as well as join us for grade level showcases throughout the year to see this engaging pedagogy firsthand. 


Under Climate of Care, Challenge Success’s framework includes systems and routines that support student social and emotional learning, opportunities for students to develop and practice agency and advocacy skills, incorporating a restorative justice approach to manage conflict and emotions, fostering inclusive practices that enable all students to feel seen, valued, and heard, and embodying a warm demander stance by maintaining high expectations in a supportive environment. Again, I feel like they are describing our culture and environment perfectly. As you know, our teachers have created wonderful routines in their classrooms such as morning meetings, classroom chores, and learning centers. Our Echo Center was founded to provide opportunities for ALL students to develop self advocacy skills and our students feel safe and supported to bring their ideas and concerns to their peers, teachers and administrators. The majority of the changes that take place at Echo Horizon are because of our student advocates who see something they would like to change and bring that idea forward. We wouldn’t have Halloween costumes for students, a new food service, new activities on the yard, a Student Advisory board, or student clubs if it weren’t for the advocacy of our young scholars. And, as you have likely heard, our Directors are presently leading us through a year long professional development course in restorative justice practices to provide a framework for and to improve upon our community wide practices of conflict resolution. The definition of restorative practices are those that intentionally and systematically build the capacity, skill and motivation needed by everyone to: 1) actively engage with and be agents for change in the learning community; and 2) build the capacity to name, acknowledge, and repair harm. As we look at the social discipline window, restorative practices are strengths based, collaborative, and empowering, and they challenge us to employ a growth mindset. Last but not least in the area of climate of care, the goal of our FLOURISH program is to foster inclusive practices that enable every student, whether they are four years old or twelve, to confidently share their identities, backgrounds, and traditions, knowing that they will be valued and celebrated at Echo Horizon. Were it not for this sincere belief that identities and differences are superpowers that should be celebrated, we would not have our monthly JEDI days, our annual HOLI celebration, and our Winter Festival, celebrations that we love and look forward to.  


As you can see, Echo Horizon School is way ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring that all of our students, despite expected ups and downs, are learning and growing in a safe and healthy environment. We could not be prouder of the tremendous work we have done and will continue to do to protect our children from unnecessary stress and anxiety and allow them to enjoy fulfilling and joyful childhoods.  



CDC:  https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html


2022 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK587174/

Challenge Success: 

Success with Less Stress Article by Dr. Denise Pope:  

Restorative Justice:  https://www.starlingcollaborative.org/

Notes from Professional development sessions with Annie O’Shaughnessy of Starling Collaborative