Share the Wealth: Hot Topic Lunch—Students Leading Students to Improve Social Climate

By Laurel Lisovskis, BSW

Part 3 in our Share the Wealth series. Click to read other Share the Wealth posts.

Laurel LisovskisAs an MSW intern at the school-based Bethel Health Center, working under the only therapist in the district, I have been noticing all the different ways school and health center staff try to reach kids. Group counseling has been an excellent way to reach a large body of students, especially students who may not otherwise receive mental health support of any kind. Groups such as multicultural groups, teen parent groups, empowerment groups, and trauma groups are all examples of the kinds of closed-group therapy that is spread throughout the district. While these are all critical to the schools they are utilized in, another kind of group has been successful as well, and that is the informal student-led group.

At Shasta Middle, the site where I do most of my work for the health center, a group called Hot Topic Lunch was conceived by and is led by students. It is by far and away my favorite part of the week because kids show up by choice and want to talk. Hot Topic Lunch was born to provide a place and time at school for seventh graders to talk without being judged about things that are important to them in an open-group setting on a consistent basis.

Its creator, a student named Mariah, approached both myself and the school counselor, about a gap she saw in support for students around social climate. She was upset by what she was seeing in the breezeways, bathrooms, and even classrooms regarding issues like bullying and self-harm. Share the WealthHaving been part of a girls’ empowerment group, which included discussions about things like relational aggression, ally-building skills, self-care, and resiliency, she thought these skills could be shared with the wider student population. And so, through collaboration, a plan was hatched to create Hot Topic Lunch.

The structure for the topics was created by surveying seventh-grade students during their health class. We created the content of the survey by talking to students who were interested in articulating the needs of their population. These were kids who naturally flowed into the counselor’s office to address concerns on a regular basis and students who were dealing with small group issues while we were conceptualizing the idea. We knew that bullying and self-harm were consistent barriers to a positive social climate, and we brainstormed on other possible issues. We built a sixteen-question survey and found that bullying and self-harm rose to the top, followed by identity shaping, social recognition, and loss.

In order to create a loosely structured open discussion to last thirty minutes—while eating—we knew it would be best to keep it simple. The current rules are that everyone is invited each week, and that it is a safe space. We define safe space by an agreement of confidentiality, a willingness to listen all the way, and an assumption that each person has a different experience and choice of whether to share it. In a safe space, we agree to be supportive of one another. middle school lunch open source USDA AgricultureWe hold Hot Topic Lunch once per week at the same time and place, and share what the topic will be that morning during school-wide announcements.

We wanted to have some kind of curriculum, and we found that using reproducible materials from the book Talk with Teens About What Matters to Them by Jean Sunde Peterson, Ph.D., a Purdue University professor and director of school counselor preparation, was an excellent resource for guided activities. These planned activities are there if we feel we need them, but usually the students begin discussions right away based on only a small amount of prompting. We end up using the materials as more of a touch point for ourselves to make sure the discussions are useful and end on a meaningful note.

It is difficult to gauge success for overall school climate, but attendance is high for Hot Topic Lunch, and the array of students participating is wide. The climate during our informal sessions goes from serious to fun depending on the day, but it always feels very nurturing. Many personal stories and issues have been shared, and students tell me they feel better after sharing. And they keep coming back for more. It may be too soon to tell whether the overall social climate at school has been impacted, but we are moving forward one hot topic at a time.

Laurel Lisovskis, BSW, is in her second year of graduate school working toward clinical licensure in social work at Portland State University. Her field placement is at the school-based Bethel Health Center, one of the innovative programs conceived through an alliance between state healthcare initiatives and public schools to bring services directly to students and families at school sites. Her intern experience includes doing individual and group therapy, as well as traditional social work roles such as resource utilization, collaboration with internal and external supports, and case management. Laurel is also working within the clinical setting to streamline integrated care services. With over ten years of expertise in counseling in both healthcare and public school domains, she lends a unique perspective of the connectivity between mental health and the well-being of middle school student populations.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guest Post: Making a Difference, or What I’ve Learned as an Editorial Intern

By Kaitlin W.

Free Spirit has an active internship program in the editorial, marketing, and creative departments. We invited our current editorial intern, Kaitlin W., to consider some questions and write a post reflecting on her experience here.

internI started my college career by studying criminal justice with the hopes of becoming a social worker and working in child protective services, but as I learned more about what I would do every day, I realized it wasn’t quite right for me. I changed my major to professional writing and quickly integrated into the writing community at my college, but I felt sad that I was no longer working toward something that would have an immediate impact on the lives of kids and teens. I knew that writing was important and that books can be a fundamental part of kids’ lives, but I wanted to do something more tangible and mission driven.

I found Free Spirit while looking for internship opportunities . . . and closed my Internet browser. I thought, What do children’s editors really do anyway? Do you really need an editor for picture books? (The answer is yes, yes you do.) I returned to Free Spirit’s website a few days later and looked through their catalog. I was surprised to find books for kids about tough topics such as coping with the loss of a loved one; transitions in families, like going to live with a foster family or becoming part of a stepfamily; and how to handle school if you learn at a different pace, whether that’s faster or slower, than other kids in your class. It was a perfect fit: I could use my writing and editing skills to help produce books that could make an immediate difference in kids’ lives. I sent out my application materials, and well, you know what they say about the rest.

What would you tell someone who is looking at doing an internship?
Come in ready to learn every day. Everyone here has a lot of experience and is very willing to help you learn about the different tasks you’re doing and about the industry as a whole.

Be ready to work right away because you’ll be assigned projects almost immediately. Your input will be valued and considered when making decisions about the outcome of said projects, so don’t be afraid to share your opinion on projects or manuscripts that come across your desks.

What are some of the new things you didn’t know before?
I know quite a bit more about the editorial and publishing processes, for example, how to proofread a manuscript effectively and how a book moves from being an accepted submission to a published work. Those processes aren’t something you learn in a classroom: you have to experience them and learn firsthand how to look at manuscripts from an editorial perspective, and it’s much nicer to do it in an environment where I could ask questions and learn from editors who have experience instead of “flying blind,” as it were, when I start my full-time career.

I’ve also gotten to learn a lot about the technical side of publishing, such as how to apply for copyright and how to file CIP (cataloging in publication) data with the Library of Congress. I knew that both of these processes happened, obviously, but I had no idea how they happened and had never thought to ask before I considered working in publishing.

Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16thEdAnother useful thing that I’ve learned is how to use the Chicago Manual of Style, which is important if you have an interest in publishing. If you’re not very familiar with it and have an interest in either working in publishing or publishing a book someday, page through it online or at your library. Don’t try to read it cover-to-cover (trust me, I tried), but focus on topics that are interesting to you and also in the table of contents and the index. It’s more important to know where to find something if you need to know about it than being able to recite the Chicago guidelines about commas. You’ll become familiar with the rules over time and use.

What are some tasks you get to do?
I get to do a lot of different things, which is great because I like having a varied workload. One day, I might come into the office and do research for a new book, for example, but the next day, I’ll come in and work on the company’s website.

I also check the mail for new submissions every morning, and since Free Spirit accepts unsolicited submissions year-round, there’s always more reading for me to do! I get to have the first look at proposals and first contact with the author, even if it’s just a note to acknowledge that we’ve received the manuscript. This is one of my favorite parts of the job, to be honest: I love finding out what people feel is important for kids to know and, therefore, what’s important to share with us.

How has this experience helped you grow?
On that same note, I think that interning at Free Spirit Publishing has made me more aware in at least two ways, the first being more environmentally aware: the people here are always working to make the company more earth-friendly and once I got in the mindset of “being green” at work, it sort of carried over into my personal life. Now, I’m a bit more prone to walk instead of drive, use cloth or paper grocery bags instead of plastic, and buy more earth- and worker-friendly products.

perspective and persception(c) Free Spirit  PublishingThis experience has also made me more aware of just how many perspectives can exist regarding an issue. For example, we’ll receive a manuscript that discusses stress and anxiety in children based on that author’s personal experience, but the next day we’ll receive another manuscript, also about stress and anxiety in children, but from the perspective of someone who’s done research on that specific topic. Both are equally important and valid, and it’s interesting to read both and learn about the different ways that people approach the same topic.

Being an intern at Free Spirit has been one of the best work experiences I’ve had, and I hope if you’re thinking about doing an editorial or marketing internship that you apply here. You’ll learn a lot, and you’ll learn at a company that is committed to helping children and teens. You can find more information about available internships at Free Spirit’s website.

Kaitlin W. is the winter/spring editorial intern at Free Spirit Publishing and a fifth-year professional writing major at a nearby university.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Guest Post: Safety Safari

By Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy

April 20–24 is National Playground Safety Week. To celebrate, here is a post from the authors of
A Moving Child Is a Learning Child.

Gill Connell, right, and Cheryl McCarthy, left.

Gill Connell, right, and Cheryl McCarthy, left.

Kids Are Born Risk Takers
Kids are born risk takers, not because they don’t know any better, but because they have to be. Some measure of physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or social risk is involved in learning anything new. And for little ones, pretty much everything is new.

So, if risk is necessary for learning, by default, so is courage. Yet in today’s risk-averse culture, we’re often not giving little ones the opportunity to practice courage. In my experience, there are many ways to accomplish this at home, in the classroom, on the playground, or wherever little ones play. Here’s a great example:

Rough ‘n’ Tumble Play
Some time ago I was working with a group of teachers who were struggling with the issue of overly aggressive roughhousing on the playground. But unlike others who have asked me how to stop it, this preschool asked a different question: “How can we make it safe for the kids to roughhouse?”

Wow. Great question.

You see, rough ‘n’ tumble or roughhousing is a great life lesson for all young boys and girls. It teaches children how to control their own aggression (not become more aggressive, as many adults think), respect others, and stay within the often unspoken boundaries of social propriety. (If you’re interested in the topic, I’d highly recommend The Art of Roughhousing by Dr. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen.)

But the issue remains. How do you make rough ‘n’ tumble play safe (or at least safer)? Note: Nothing can 100 percent guarantee safety for each child in every situation. As I often say, all safety is “local.” Only you know a child’s temperament, maturity level, experience, and capabilities, so safety is ultimately your call. But some strategies may help. Here’s what we did:

The Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat
First, the preschool invested in a new mat, which we called the “Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat” to isolate the play.

The teachers introduced the idea to the children and started a dialogue with them about the benefits of having a dedicated place for rough ‘n’ tumble. But this was more than just a safer place to play. It was a teachable moment. After all, keeping children safe and teaching children to think about safety are two very different things. So we decided the little ones might benefit from taking a Safety Safari.

Safety Safari
play mat rules
The teachers took the children on a field trip all around the preschool, stopping at different locations and encouraging them to decide whether or not it would be a safe place for their new Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat. For instance, “Would the Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat be safe if we put it by the stairs? Or by the tables? Or near the swings? What would happen if we put it here?”

At each stop, the children were given the chance to envision what might happen, anticipating and discussing the consequences of each potential location. In fact, this “think safety” strategy worked so well, the children wound up doing almost all of the surmising themselves and ultimately team problem-solving each location until they agreed the Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat belonged in an empty corner away from anything sharp.

Together, they all put the Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat in its new home. And then they took it a step further. All on their own, the little ones created their own rules of engagement. For instance, they decided that only two children should be allowed on the mat at a time. They talked about respecting each others’ choices to play or not to play, and created a “trigger word” to signal when someone wanted to stop. The teachers encouraged them to talk about reasons why someone wouldn’t want to play or might want to stop, and soon enough the children were able to empathize with what those feelings might be like.

Over time, and with some practice, the Rough ‘n’ Tumble Mat became a favorite place to play with fewer and fewer negative incidents. The play was still big and boisterous, yet somehow in setting their own boundaries for risk, and understanding a tiny bit more about the courage it takes to engage in rough ‘n’ tumble play, the children’s respect for each other seemed to solve many of the safety issues.

And one more thing: Getting children to think about safety will not only help them understand what to look out for, they may well think safety is their idea. And like the rest of us, when kids believe it’s their idea, they’re bound to believe it’s a good one!

Gill Connell is a globally recognized child development authority, specializing in the foundations of learning through movement and play. She provides developmental expertise to parents, preschools, schools, and companies such as Hasbro, Inc., based on her 30+ years in preschool and primary education.MovingChildIsALearningChild She is the founder of Moving Smart, Ltd., which offers resources, tools, training, and workshops.

Cheryl McCarthy is a former vice president of intellectual property development for Hasbro, Inc. She is a 30-year veteran of the world of children’s play, specializing in young children’s storytelling and entertainment. As executive producer, she managed the creative development of properties such as My Little Pony, Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, and many other beloved children’s icons. She is currently the creative director at Moving Smart, Ltd. Cheryl lives in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.


Posted in Early Childhood | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enter to Win Stress Management Resources!

This month we’re giving away a book bundle that helps both teachers and students deal with stressful situations:

Stress Giveaway2Stress Can Really Get on Your Nerves
RX for Stress In a Jar®
What to Do When You’re Scared & Worried
Fighting Invisible Tigers
Tips to Avoid Teacher Burnout In a Jar®

To Enter:
Leave a comment below telling us what you do to help kids cope with stress.

For additional entries, share the giveaway with your friends and colleagues and leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

giveaway button © by Free Spirit Publishing lg

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, April 24, 2015.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around April 30, 2015, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Free Spirit News, Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , , | 129 Comments

Guest Post: Volunteer Service—A Priceless Experience for All

By Barbara A. Lewis, author of The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects

Barbara Lewis, FSP AuthorCan you believe that in the wealthiest large nation of the United States, nearly 50 million Americans struggle to keep food on their tables? If you look further, about one in nine people on Earth do not have enough food to live a healthy and active life.

Help is on the way with nine-year-old Jake Lemon of Boynton Beach, California. He enjoys making Cupcakes with a Cop to raise money to feed hungry children.

It might take mountains of cupcake sales to raise enough money to put a dent in the hunger problem, but young Jake is learning that he can make a difference. Other groups and organizations are involved with the fight against hunger. For example, Teens Fighting Hunger has raised over $75,000 for feeding hungry children in America.

With two big service events on the horizon, young people and adults everywhere are rolling up their sleeves and digging into service of all kinds around the world:

Cops and Cupcakes, J Lemon on teh news

  • National Volunteer Week occurs April 12–18 and boasts 250,000 service projects per year.
  • Global Youth Service Day, April 17–19, celebrates service in over 100 countries around the world. You can go to their website to find service projects wherever you live.

But if you want to hunker down on your own, there are lots of ways to inspire kids and adults to get involved in service.

Hot Service Ideas for Younger Kids

  1. Collect grocery coupons to give to a local food bank.
  2. Adopt a “grand friend,” a senior who would like your company.
  3. Stuff some mittens with small candies and donate them to a homeless shelter that has children living there.
  4. Plant a garden with some vegetables. Harvest the vegetables and donate them to a charity of your choice.
  5. Gather up your gently used books and donate them to a children’s hospital.

Cool Service Ideas for Older Kids and Teens . . . and even older

    adopt a komodo dragon from World Animal Foundation

    Lots of animals at World Animal Foundation!

  1. Clean up a vacant lot with your friends.
  2. Paint an elderly person’s house (with their permission, of course).
  3. Raise money to adopt an acre of a rainforest or an endangered species of your choice.
  4. Hold a reuse/recycle day invention contest at your school or club using discarded Styrofoam, plates, cups, string, cardboard, and anything else you can find. Give prizes for the best.
  5. Write letters to soldiers and send them with treats in a package.

Helpful Hints

  • Involve kids and adults in brainstorming a project. Allow kids to choose.
  • Research the project to make sure it is safe and needed.
  • Obtain all the necessary permissions and chaperones.
  • Get necessary supplies donated, if you can, or hold a fundraiser.
  • Celebrate and evaluate the service when you are finished.

Being involved in service offers many benefits. People who actively engage in volunteering actually have lower mortality rates and better mental and physical health, along with positive attitudes. Young people involved in service grow in self-confidence and leadership. They become better connected to their communities and can start seeing a reason why they are learning skills in school. More of them score higher on tests and go on to college and experience a fulfilling life of service. They learn that when they give, they receive.

People who think volunteers are free are wrong. They are priceless!

KidsGuideToServiceProjectsBarbara A. Lewis is an author and educator who teaches kids how to think and solve real problems. Her elementary school students initiated the cleanup of hazardous waste, improved sidewalks, planted thousands of trees, and even instigated and pushed through several state laws and an amendment to a national law. She has been featured in/on many national newspapers, magazines, and news programs, and her books have won Parenting’s Reading Magic Award and been named “Best of the Best for Children” by the American Library Association, among other honors. Barbara’s many books include What Do You Stand For? For Kids, What Do You Stand For? For Teens, The Kid’s Guide to Social Action, Kids with Courage, The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects, and The Teen Guide to Global Action.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2015 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Service Learning & Volunteerism | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment