Originally published May 12, 2019 in The Herald News.
By Linda Murphy
As Alice A. Macomber Primary School physical education teacher Teresa Mahjoory proves, there’s more than one way to bring social-emotional wellness to her students.
In fact, Mahjoory slipped social-emotional wellness initiatives into just about every facet of the school day, handily landing the school in first place for the 8th annual Greater Fall River School Fitness Challenge. With the $500 prize, she plans to bring another element to the school that will promote social-emotional wellness: an outdoor classroom in an unused grassy area adjacent to the building.
In one of her initiatives, students had the opportunity to convey how they were feeling that day by choosing to walk over one of three colored tape blocks on the floor as they entered the gym. Green indicated a good day, yellow, was a bit more challenging and red meant they weren’t having a good day at all, giving Mahjoory an indicator that she should check in with those students.
In the Integrated Hallway, she created a hopscotch-style pathway where students with sensory needs can get the input they need to refocus as they travel from classroom to classroom, and for those students who do something extra kind, there’s the Helping Paw award. Mahjoory cleverly decided to use recycled donated trophies to give to the recipients of the Helping Paw award. “Throughout the challenge, I was able to showcase kids who were going out of their way,” she said.
In an unused nook of the school, Mahjoory did a bit of “remodeling” to make the Wildcat Zen Den, a cozy spot where kids dealing with social-emotional issues could go for some quiet meditative time. And in the gym, she established a Conflict Corner, a safe place where kids can work out conflicts among themselves, thus learning an important life skill.
She also created a Social Emotional Learning book bank with special education teacher Amy Sousa. The bank is stocked up with books addressing an array of SEL issues for teachers to use with their students. Mahjoory selected some of the books to use in her PE classes where she read the book and then incorporated the concept into a PE lesson. “Emmanuel’s Dream,” about a boy who wanted to play soccer his despite being born with a deformed leg, led to a lesson in which the kids played scooter soccer, but they were only allowed to use one leg. “They were able to see the struggle that he went through so I was able to relate it back to the book,” said Mahjoory. “To be able to integrate that into PE has been super fun.”
Another SEL book, “The Juice Box Bully,” turned into a lesson using recycled juice boxes. One of the promises in the book, she said, was to “take care of ourselves and others.” That promise turned into the students signing a message against bullying that Mahjoory placed into a bottle that was tossed into the ocean.
In her classes, Mahjoory created lessons in which kids who wouldn’t normally play together had to work in partnerships, and she added jobs and leadership roles to boost kids’ confidence. “They loved it; having a sense of responsibility,” she said, adding she plans to keep that initiative now that the challenge has ended.
She also brought SEL worksheets into the PE classes so kids could think through issues they may be having, and she established a positive character attribute of the week such as “responsible” that the kids explored as it related to the PE class.
Picard said they were blown away by the proposals they received from the teachers, and especially the one from Mahjoory. While most were a couple pages, Mahjoory’s was a 10-page proposal that took the concept from the PE classroom to the entire school. Mahjoory, said Picard, is “the absolute best physical education teacher I have ever seen in my 60 years of being involved in education.”
Some of the other initiatives Mahjoory brought to her classroom include You Are, in which the students conveyed positive things they thought about each other and the #IwishmyteacherknewIwasgoodat initiative, in which the students shared things they’re good at outside of PE classes on a slip of paper in a jar. “I couldn’t believe how many kids wanted to tell me what they’re good at, from archery to drawing. I learned so much about them,” she said. “It helps me build relationships with the students.”
Principal Cheryl Greeson and the teachers also embraced the SEL challenge. Greeson issued daily kindness challenges and the teachers added lunch book talks, yoga and mindfulness practices, morning teambuilding meetings and an SEL collaborative art project, among many others.
A native of Fall River, Mahjoory worked at the Sylvia School in Fall River before taking the position at Macomber Primary School this fall. The kickoff to the challenge at Macomber started on Feb. 6 with Global School Wide Play Day. And this year, Greeson gave them the “green light” to scrap the regular lessons to engage in play. “She’s a huge supporter of learning through play. Dr. Greeson understands the importance of play, and all the social-emotional issues,” said Mahjoory.
After Macomber, the following schools placed in this order in this year’s challenge: Westport Elementary School, Edmond P. Talbot Middle School, John J. Doran Community School and Joseph Case High School. This year’s School Fitness Challenge served over 3,000 area students.