Mayor Greg Fischer, Superintendent Donna M. Hargens, Patrick H. Tolan, Ph. D. of the University of Virginia, and Owsley Brown III today announced the launch of full implementation of the Compassionate Schools Project in the Jefferson County Public Schools, as well as four major supporting investments in the effort, totaling $4.4 million.
The announcement came during a press conference at Rutherford Elementary School, where students and an instructor demonstrated exercises from the curriculum.
The Compassionate Schools Project is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of a 21st-century health and wellness curriculum. Facilitating the integrated development of mind and body, the project interweaves support in academic achievement, mental fitness, health, and compassionate character. The research aims to have a major impact on children’s education nationwide, in terms of academic performance, physical education, character development and child health policies, due to its extraordinary scale of 50 schools and 20,000 children over the project’s seven years.
Last fall, three pilot JCPS schools (Jacob, Cane Run and Slaughter Elementary) implemented the curriculum for all K-5 students twice each week during Practical Living class. The classes served more than 1,300 students and were evaluated and adjusted for optimal teacher and student engagement, schedule integration, age appropriateness and compatibility with the data measurement plan.
Beginning this year, the curriculum is being implemented in 25 schools for two years each, with start dates in 2016 and 2017. Researchers will study these schools throughout implementation, while also gathering data from 25 schools using the traditional Practical Living curriculum for comparison.
“This project is a signature part of our effort to nurture and grow the values of lifelong learning and compassion across Louisville,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. “Not only are we offering 20,000 young people these practical skills for improved health and focus, but we have also made ourselves a center of education innovation that has the eyes of the country watching us.”
Mindfulness-based instruction, social-emotional skills training and attentive movement are being used increasingly in individual schools across the United States. Initial research indicates potential benefits for both behavior and academic performance. The Compassionate Schools Project is the first to implement and study these skills across a sample representative of an entire school district. It is also the first curriculum to integrate these with skills shown to aid child physical health. If successful, the curriculum can be readily adoptable by school districts across the country.
“This kind of instruction has been shown to increase attention, determination, and self-awareness – all of which are critical if we are going to reach the goals outlined in our strategic plan,” said Dr. Hargens. “While these non-cognitive skills won’t show up on standardized tests, they are increasingly vital to our students’ academic success by building capacity within themselves to self-regulate and make great choices.”
Major supporting investment
The Compassionate Schools Project is funded through collaboration of private philanthropy and local and national foundations, and supported by staff and resources from the University of Virginia and Jefferson County Public Schools System.
Today, the project’s chairman, Owsley Brown III, announced four major grants:
James Graham Brown Foundation of Louisville: $1,000,000
Owsley and Victoire Brown, Christina Lee Brown, and Augusta and Gill Holland: $2,750,000
Hemera Foundation of Boulder, Colo.: $900,000
Paul Tudor Jones and Sonia Jones of Greenwich, Conn: $796,000
“This extraordinary support is a major endorsement of Louisville’s focus on compassion, innovation, and the flourishing of our children. The Compassionate Schools Project brings all of it together and is a model for the entire nation,” said Brown.
Also making key supporting investments are: C.E. and S. Foundation, Margaret Brown de Clercq, Patricia Gabriele and Vincenzo Gabriele, and the Gheens Foundation. The total raised to date is $6.4 million.
“Of the programs we’ve seen in almost ten years of grant making, few have had as much potential as the Compassionate Schools Project,” said Rob Kaufold, Executive Director of the Hemera Foundation. We see this as a unique opportunity to make a significant advance in research on the application and benefit of mindful awareness practice within education.”
The Compassionate Schools Project aligns with state and federal standards for health, physical education, nutrition, social and emotional learning and the Common Core standards. The project adds a new instructor in each school where the curriculum is being implemented, enhancing the Jefferson County Public Schools’ existing leadership and excellence in wellness education. Over the span of this funded project, more than 10,000 elementary school-aged students will be served.
More information is available at compassionschools.org.