The CORE Project

by Kim Hemmert

Salmon, Idaho is a rural community with a big heart. There are music programs, sports, clothing drives, library programs and clubs for youth and families. The school is a hub for social activities, and a sense of belonging. Salmon isn’t without its challenges, however. Like many rural communities, Salmon has gaps in services and families’ struggle. On top of the issues that cause increased stress to families, middle childhood can be a difficult time in youth development with body changes, finding one’s identity, wanting instant gratification, and the importance of social relationships with peers.

The Mahoney House has seen the challenges that families in Salmon are experiencing and has responded with a strengths-based approach to support family wellbeing through a partnership with the school district and the CORE Project because youth need an adult role model. At the beginning of the school year, Leslie, a 6th grade language arts teacher, saw firsthand how “giving social and emotional learning a name and discussing it, is reaching my kids to the core.” Leslie has one rule in her classroom and that’s “kindness with respect.” She teaches students to appreciate differences and to see them as strengths.

Each week The Mahoney House taught a lesson and extended a CORE challenge to the students. Two examples of CORE challenge questions are, “Think of a problem at school, home, or with a friend; how will you solve the problem? How do you make an authentic connection with someone outside of class?”

These weekly CORE challenges provide opportunities for Leslie and her students to brainstorm together and learn that “we need each other to figure out solutions. It’s about choosing to bravely reach out and make a connection with someone. My students can learn these skills, improve their perspective, and know they have people that care about them. It takes time for students to learn that this is a safe environment to fail, learn from mistakes, and move forward. We want our school to feel more comfortable and welcoming.” The ripple effect is that students are having discussions at home about what they are learning through the CORE project and asking their parents and caretakers the same CORE challenge questions, which spurs conversation, promotes emotional growth, strengthens relationships, and builds trust.

At the end of the school year, Leslie provided additional feedback on how the CORE Project went. “My kids are full of fun personalities and the CORE project was a way to learn socially and academically.” The CORE Project evolved from classroom activities to more in-depth hands-on activities in the gym. The students worked on goal setting, working together, reaching further to overcome setbacks and disappointment, and taking responsibility. “The CORE Project has been a great way to teach kindness, respect, and appreciate others’ talents and differences,” Leslie says.

Leslie’s biggest concern for next school year is not making time to prioritize the CORE Project, when more focus on mental health is necessary. The best news of all is that they have chosen to prioritize investing in the social emotional learning that the CORE Project offers. “It’s so important! Academics are important, but if we don’t know how to be resilient, we won’t succeed. I’m trying to learn and grow. It’s continual work; modeling, reflecting, growing, and that it’s ok to have hard conversations.”

The CORE Project that The Mahoney House facilitates is developing supportive relationships between Leslie and her students, and between students and their families. Leslie provides a safe, stable and nurturing classroom environment for students to be vulnerable as they learn social and emotional development. Students have the opportunity to be civically engaged in student council and kindness club. These are the four building blocks of HOPE, or Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences. According to Tufts University, “Positive experiences can ease toxic stress and help children and youth grow into more resilient, healthier adults.”

Our work at the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund (ICTF) promotes the building blocks of HOPE and the five Protective Factors which are: parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children, and concrete support in times of need. These Protective Factors and building blocks of HOPE promote optimal development so individuals and communities thrive. We are grateful for Leslie and her willingness to share her experience with the CORE project, and for all the work that The Mahoney House does to spread HOPE in Lemhi County.

If you would like to know more about programs and organizations founded in the protective factors and HOPE, or want to get involved, contact the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund.