ACCEPT U is a Social Emotional Learning curriculum series, modeled off the Principles of Character, designed to ensure the development of the Whole Child. Targeting 21st Century State Standards, ACCEPT U delivers content that is highly interactive, inclusion, and collaborative among both staff and students. Focused on modeling the importance of acceptance and tolerance, empathy is defined through ice-breakers, media delivery and breakout sessions. The three-part series is designed to thematically and chronologically develop middle-school students’ social skills and awareness, starting with “Transitioning: Elementary to Middle School” in 6th Grade. Learning the ins and outs of bell to bell life, as well as the social peer pressures of middle school, students and staff collaborate and work with their PEER Leaders in their own building to share fears and concerns in order to develop a shared vision of expectations as stakeholders in the building. Once in 7th grade, the focus of ACCEPT U is “Citizenship: On & Offline.” A compliment to Future Ready Schools, its content clearly defines and introduces the importance of marketing yourself positively and showcasing your brand (on and offline) in a way that is positive and socially acceptable, thus empowering students who are now Future Ready. Finally, 8th graders embark on an SEL Retreat known as “Diversity Day.” Celebrating multi-culturalism within a school, teachers, staff, and administration share with students how to navigate through their world (and others) more effectively while having their own voice be heard in a safe, trusting and inviting learning environment. Graduates of ACCEPT U become the Ambassadors of Social Change for your school and the voice that defines your school’s culture and climate, by showing empathy and celebrated social and cultural differences.
As the District PEER Leadership Coordinator for the Old Bridge Township Public School District, my goal is to develop student-leaders who are Future Ready, within a culture and climate that is socially inclusive, safe and driven by the Principles of Character. The vision of our Superintendent, Mr. Cittadino, and Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Hoeker, emphasizes the importance of Character Education, being a State and National District (and High School) of Character. Under their shared vision, they have supported me in developing a PEER Leadership Program that is built from the bottom up, where once a Senior PEER Leader, the cycle of Paying it Forward starts over by modeling expectations to our Elementary Character Ambassadors, as well as mentoring of our Middle School and Grade 9 PEER Ambassadors. With the belief that “Everyone can become a Knight,” my PEER Leadership Program has become the vehicle that drives through the terrain which is our district’s culture and climate.
My definition of Leadership was defined by Old Bridge High School Principal, Vincent Sasso. A passionate, innovative change-agent, Principal Sasso models the proper way to build positive, lasting relationships with all stakeholders of a learning community. Staff and students alike respect, appreciate and buy-in to his ethical approach to fostering a caring community. Mr. Sasso’s proven leadership and positive example motivated me to bring my passion for Social and Emotional Learning and PEER Leadership beyond the scope of Old Bridge Public Schools. With his support, my growth as an influential educator has now led to collaborations with other school districts looking to share, revise, and even implement SEL curriculum of their own, as well as earn recognition from the New Jersey Department of Education and Character.org.
If transforming the culture and climate of your staff, students and learning community is a priority, as well as becoming Future Ready, I am always looking to share ideas and collaborate with district team leaders looking to put students first who are positive citizens, on and offline!
Jamie Brown is the District PEER Leadership Coordinator at Old Bridge Township Public Schools, helping revitalize school culture and climate through social inclusion and positive citizenship, both on and offline. Follow him on twitter at @LCDAcademy.