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Partners HealthCare invests in Boston's elementary school students

12/12/2012, 8:04 a.m.
Jason Gallagher, Principal, Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown; Gary Gottlieb, MD, President and CEO, Partners HealthCare;...
Jason Gallagher, Principal, Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown; Gary Gottlieb, MD, President and CEO, Partners HealthCare; Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools; and Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director, Boston Public Health Commission congratulate students after their demonstration of Open Circle at the Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown.

Finding new ways to invest in and support programs that can help to prevent health problems now and down the road is an essential part of what Partners HealthCare and its founding hospitals — Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals — do. Prevention is core to the mission of the organization and our community health work.

But to do it right, we must build strong, local partnerships and be informed by their expertise. At the Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charlestown, Partners kicked off a new initiative that does all of these things.

Through a collaboration with the Boston Public Health Commission and the Boston Public Schools, Partners is making a $1 million dollar commitment to more than 7,000 Boston students to help them better understand and manage their emotional health and develop positive, healthy relationships.

Working with these community partners, an innovative curriculum called Open Circle will be implemented in more than one-third of the city’s elementary and K-8 schools this school year.  

“Our goal is to help young people better understand their emotions and be able to talk about them and learn to manage them,” said Gary Gottlieb, MD, President and CEO of Partners HealthCare. “By working with the Mayor and Boston Public Schools on this initiative, we want to support our young people in the classroom and in the community.”

Open Circle is an interactive learning experience that includes lessons designed to teach children important relationship-building as well as skills like listening, including one another, cooperating, speaking up, calming down, expressing anger appropriately, recognizing dangerous and destructive behavior, and problem solving.

“This program will give Boston’s students another tool in their tool kits to help them to make good choices,” Mayor Menino said. “This is a great example of how we can all come together and find ways to support our kids.”

Open Circle was developed by the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College and is celebrating its 25th year. The whole-school approach of the curriculum helps to improve school climate and address a broad range of challenging behaviors in school, from classroom disruption to teasing, bullying and fighting.

Extensive training for teachers and administrators will ensure a consistent approach, vocabulary and expectations for student behavior school-wide. An evaluation funded by the NoVo Foundation will enable all of the partners in this collaboration to track the impact of this work and learn about changes in the school climate as well as students’ social-emotional development and behavior.

Parents and caregivers will also have the opportunity to learn Open Circle approaches for use at home through workshops at the schools and at Boston Public Schools’ Parent University. Additionally, schools will build capacity for sustained, continuous improvement in social and emotional learning through the establishment of Open Circle peer coaches, parent group facilitators and multi-departmental social and emotional learning leadership teams.  

“Every day we look for innovative ideas and strategies that we can use to support our students,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson. “Social and emotional learning is critically important to our students so they can learn strategies that will help them manage their feelings and cultivate healthy relationships. We want each student to be their very best, and we look forward to working with our partners on this initiative to ensure that our students achieve all of their goals.”