How Does a Focus on the Whole Child Impact a Whole School? A Florida Pitt Waller Counselor Discusses How Building Emotional and Social Skills “Unlocks the Doors to Learning”

Mavis Cain

Nurturing the whole child is part of the Denver Public Schools philosophy, and Florida Pitt Waller ECE-8 counselor Mavis Cain sees first-hand how much that focus can mean to the whole school.

When students are lacking social and emotional skills, “it impacts the classroom climate and the school climate, said Mavis. Without a counselor, it was difficult to do anything but handle a negative behavior with a consequence.

For teachers and staff at Waller, it was noticeable that some students werent getting the guidance, whether at home or elsewhere, to build the social and emotional skills needed to thrive both with peers and in academics. And while staff did what they could, they were stretched too thin to provide the needed support.

That began to change in 2012 when voters approved mill levy funding that helped 13 high-needs schools hire counseling and mental health professionals to support students social and emotional well-being. For Florida Pitt Waller, being able to bring on Mavis, a longtime DPS counselor, made an immediate impact on students and the school.

They come to me when they are not prepared emotionally, having anxiety, something is going on at home or they are experiencing poor interactions with peers, said Mavis. One student came from a violent neighborhood and a transient home. The student would impulsively strike others, thinking that he couldnt control his behaviors because of his past.

After getting to know the student and finding out what supports he needed to address those challenges, Mavis guided the student to find personal, social and academic success in learning to control his anger.

You have to look at the whole child, Mavis said.

The college and career piece is very important, but before that we need to ensure a student is ready to learn or [find out] if there are barriers. Helping students work through those challenges unlocks the doors to learning.