North Merrick Everyday Health

December 2022

A Message from the Superintendent

Dear Parents, Students, Faculty and Staff,

There is nothing more important than the social and emotional well-being of our students, staff and community, and we are excited to feel a sense of normalcy as this school year has unfolded. I was proud to be selected as one of 10 superintendents from districts across Long Island to be featured in a Newsday article in September in which I spoke about our district's Mental Health and Wellness Coalition and programs. The piece caught the eye of another Newsday reporter who interviewed me and three H.D. Fayette students. Please see that article, attached below. We have much to share in this e-newsletter with you!

International Walk to School Day

North Merrick schools participated in the International Walk to School Day in October. This annual event promotes the benefits of walking to stay fit and healthy as well as awareness of the environment and a strong sense of community. The PTAs distributed stickers and sidewalk chalk to add more fun activities before the students stepped inside the buildings. Dr. Seniuk notes that International Walk to School Day is central to Social Emotional Learning (SEL) with the themes of inclusiveness and belonging.

Update on Morning Meetings and Closing Circles

Jaclyn Guidice, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel, has been visiting each of the schools to check in during Morning Meetings and Closing Circles. These initiatives have been developing over the last few years and embed Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the classroom curriculum.

This year, discussions have focused on the themes of self-care and social responsibility. For example, Ms. Guidice stopped in to Mr. Ufier's fifth grade class at Old Mill Road School one morning and listened to their thoughts about a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while they also created uplifting messages from the book Zen Happiness. The students then reflected on the attributes of truth and kindness.

"I was inspired by all the enlightening conversations I was hearing. The feelings of safety and belonging are needs. Academics are important, but SEL is the foundation for student success," explains Ms. Guidice.

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Mindfulness Clubs Continue to Flourish

The Mindfulness Clubs continue to grow in each of the three schools, grouped by grades K-2 and grades 3-4. June Smith, Director of the Bellmore-Merrick Child Care Program, says that she often hears students speaking about the clubs with excitement - and also with confidence and poise!

The Mindful Mentors Clubs for grades 5-6 provide both mindfulness activities and training for the older students to teach the younger students about mindfulness strategies and techniques. "Research shows that peer education is powerful," explains Todd Benjamin, chairperson of the Mental Health and Wellness Coalition, "The older students become heroes and positive role models." In April, the clubs will join together in a Saturday retreat where the older students will have the opportunity to lead the younger students in mindful activities and physical exercises.

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what's Inside a Calm Box?

Calm boxes have been distributed to all classrooms and health offices this year. Students in the Mindful Mentor Clubs helped to create, assemble, decorate, and deliver them. Inside the boxes, students may find stress balls, activity cards, calm strips, mood stickers, and sensory stimulation tools like a Slinky or fidgets. The items in the calm boxes help students to manage stress and anxiety during the school day. They are simple, practical items but also a symbolic gesture that the district staff and faculty are aware of what students are feeling and are there to support them.
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Integrating Restorative Practices In the Classroom

Jacqueline Sekunda, District Guidance Counselor, and Todd Benjamin, Mental Health and Wellness Coalition Chairperson, facilitated a workshop on Restorative Practices for the Special Education aides last month. This followed a similar session for faculty during the Superintendent's Conference Days in August. While Restorative Practices are more commonly used at the secondary level, North Merrick is presenting this teaching and learning approach on the elementary level to proactively and positively address student behavior and school climate.

Ms. Sekunda and Mr. Benjamin discussed the Restorative Practices continuum - from informal processes, such as "affective" statements to express feelings, to formal processes, which include circles and conferencing. They also talked about the social discipline window, a tool to create a classroom environment in which students feel meaningfully connected. The group then practiced sharing in circle and utilizing affective statements.

"We wanted to demonstrate how Restorative Practices can enhance trust and further build relationships with the students they so closely work with," added Ms. Sekunda.

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Checking In: Parent Mental Health and Wellness Survey Link

The North Merrick Mental Health and Wellness Coalition recently sent a survey to parents through Parent Square to check how families are faring so the coalition can best support them. Your feedback will help the coalition plan programming and activities for the future. If you have not already completed the brief survey, please click on the link here.
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