At the start of the school year, the Guilderland Central School District introduced The Positivity Project (P2) in grades K-8 to empower students to build more positive relationships with one another and with their teachers. P2 is a character education curriculum that enables students to understand, appreciate and exemplify the importance of character in themselves and others.
Built on 24 scientifically-validated character strengths
The program focuses on character strengths, such as creativity, perseverance, open-mindedness and love, providing the foundation for genuine self-confidence grounded in self-awareness. Character strengths aren’t about ignoring the negative. Instead, they help students overcome life’s inevitable adversities. For example, one cannot be brave without first feeling fear. The scientifically-validated character strengths are grounded in the teachings of Chris Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and a founder of positive psychology, which maintains that people have all 24 strengths intrinsically within themselves.
The GCSD K-8 schools are dedicating one week to each character strength to help students better understand them through definition, examples, discussions and exercises that take approximately 15 minutes each day. Once students learn the meaning of each strength and what it looks like, the character strengths become a part of a common vocabulary. The 24 character strengths will develop and gain more meaning for students as they grow and advance in grades.
Advisory subcommittee formed in 20-21 to support SEL
After the challenges presented by the 2019-2020 school year, GCSD recognized the need to support the social emotional health of all students returning from the COVID-19 pandemic school year. “The mental health wellness of students and staff is a high priority,” said Lisa Knowles, Director for Pupil Personnel Services. “The experiences of all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are unknown and each individual will present differently. To be successful, schools need to re-establish, strengthen and maintain trust with students, staff, families and the surrounding community. The district’s plans must have student health, safety and mental wellness as their highest priority.”
The district developed a social emotional learning (SEL) advisory subcommittee as part of the 2020-21 reopening plan. The subcommittee involved shared decision-making and was composed of parents, school-building and district leaders, community-based service providers, teachers, certified school counselors, school psychologists and school social workers. The basis for the subcommittee’s work focused on building relationships, routines, and resilience.
Throughout the course of the 2020-21 year, the SEL subcommittee reviewed research and curricula for the district to use to support the social emotional health of all students. To unify this initiative across the district and to simplify teachings, the subcommittee recommended the district provide a resource for K-8 teachers to use, ultimately selecting The Positivity Project.
How P2 works in each building
Each K-8 building has a teacher-leader who previews the weekly lessons and disseminates the information to others. In addition, every building has an assigned therapy dog, which sometimes plays a role in the “Pawsitivity” Project, but the similarities end there. Each school building has personalized how the lessons are conducted and reinforced. Ranging from character cards to bulletin boards to bitmojis to morning announcements and TV news, each building is putting their own spin on P2, further reinforcing the development of a positive environment. In the few months since implementing P2, building administrators and teachers have already seen students using the character strength terms which enables them to understand how their actions impact others as well as fosters a more positive school climate.
Presently, Guilderland High School students are not participating in The Positivity Project daily lessons however Sources of Strength, a student-led project designed to change unhealthy norms and culture, has been in place at GHS for some time. At the high school level P2 is being woven into Sources of Strength, where students are assisting in leading this program.
Origins of the Positivity Project
The Positivity Project was started in 2015 by two veterans who had been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. After returning to the U.S., Jeff Bryan and Mike Erwin sought a different way to serve their country. Inspired by the work of Chris Peterson, they decided their new mission would be to empower America’s youth to build positive relationships by seeing the good in themselves and others. To learn more about The Positivity Project, visit their website.