In the face of a growing high-poverty student population, many schools struggle, but Lake Forest Park Elementary has crafted an effective way to ensure its students achieve academically: through addressing students' social and emotional needs. This year, Lake Forest Park received the Title I Distinguished Schools Award for exceptional student performance in reading and math, as well as significant progress in closing the achievement gap in reading and math over the past two school years. According to Principal Aimee Miner, much of this success can be attributed to creating a safe environment, fostering positive relationships between students and teachers, and cultivating empathy and other changemaker skills in students.
One of the programs that Lake Forest Park implemented to foster whole-child development is Roots of Empathy. Founded by Ashoka Fellow Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy brings a parent and infant into school classrooms and uses a curriculum centered around interaction with the infant that builds student emotional literacy and empathy. Miner is now working with Shoreline School District to explore bringing Roots of Empathy to all district elementary schools. In addition to Roots of Empathy, Lake Forest Park strives to create an environment where students feel comfortable to take initiative on school and community projects. Miner speaks fondly of an example of the power of this environment:
“One new fourth grade student came into my office during her second week at school to schedule a meeting with me. She was wearing a suit, carrying a portfolio, and had her hair in a bun. During our meeting, she presented her proposal for a coat drive. Within her second week of school, she already felt comfortable talking to me about her ideas. That is the joy of my job.” (see more of Start Empathy’s interview with Miner here).
To be a Title I Distinguished School, 35% of the school’s student body must be receiving free or reduced price lunch. Lake Forest Park’s free and reduced price lunch population grew at the same time as their state assessment scores in reading and math, qualifying the school for the award. Furthermore, Lake Forest Park’s English language learners, high-poverty students, and African American students were all meeting their improvement goals. Indeed, Lake Forest Park truly is closing the achievement gap for these students, while also cultivating the changemaker skills that will help these students succeed in a constantly changing world.