How Do Our Students Thrive Amid Uncertainty? It’s a Matter of Head and Heart

Posted by Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley, PhD PHR on 4/21/2023 10:00:00 AM

student violinists

Sharonica Hardin-BartleySpring is finally blooming, and I’ve enjoyed the freedom of being outside and sharing time with family and friends while enjoying simple pleasures. Each day is a tremendous gift and an opportunity to be a better version of myself personally and professionally. 

I often speak about the head and heart of leadership. Yet again, another tragedy has crept into a school space that should serve as a haven for young people and the adults who care for them. The elementary school shooting in Nashville was heartbreaking and took the lives of six people, including three children. These acts naturally bring out emotions - fear, anger, shock, sadness and helplessness. We all feel pain in our hearts. The reality, though, is that we have to test our resilience and move forward with both head and heart - and this is especially true for our students.

We need to think and remind ourselves that amid these disturbing acts of rage, there are causes behind them, often centered on mental health issues, learned hatred and a culture that increasingly embraces rage. 

School shootings should never happen. Period.  Our heads and our hearts can rise above this and stop it. As a nation, we must work with each other to build relationships based on love and common sense to soothe our country’s pain and quell rage that threatens our public spaces, including schools, churches, malls, and, most recently, a bank in Kentucky. It gives me solace that our district demonstrates the head and the heart. We support our students who confidently speak out against gun violence and challenge our policy makers - all of them - to find empathy and partnership to solve this problem. It is an all-of-us issue, and everyone should use their anguish in the service of love and problem-solving to end these alarmingly frequent acts that are taking the lives of our loved ones and threatening our humanity.

So, we continue to persist amid uncertainty. I strive to move beyond a fearful state of mind into positive relationships, empathy and hope. I find hope when I see the smiles and eyes of our most vulnerable - our children. I find joy when our students find joy. 

On April 3, our orchestra teachers organized a performance for 200 University City students of different ages to see the duo Black Violin at UMSL’s Touhill Center. This performance touched on the old and the new - both classical compositions and modern Hip Hop - all through the power of just two string instruments. I will tell you, our students saw not only the potential of their own growing musical talent, but the transformative power they can have through work, music and creativity to be heard and inspire others. Smiles and joy were such a great part of the day.

On that same day, Brittany Woods Middle School, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the USDA “Peoples’ Garden” in what’s informally called the BWMS Side Hustle Garden. This new growing space near the school’s prairie garden was envisioned by students under the mentorship of sustainability instructor Anne Cummings so the school could grow more food for the community. It came to life through the hands-on, physical work of those students. The People’s Garden exemplifies our schools’ and our students’ growing commitment to racial equity and food scarcity because many marginalized communities lack access to quality, nutritious food options. Our students were so proud of their efforts and did a wonderful job as ambassadors to show our USDA guests their gardens and the impact they are having on the University City community and beyond. Again, smiles and joy were in abundance.

As I write this, our students are preparing for state assessments as a measure of their learning and growth over the school year. We understand that our students are much more than test scores. They are strength, resolve, creativity, and persistence - all of the wonderful traits that come from the head and the heart. We await these scores to see how we are doing, but we are looking far beyond these scores to accelerate learning in service of our students. 

We continue our work to merge well-being and joy with academics through our SEEAL (social emotional equity, and academic learning) approaches to learning. You can read more about our efforts in our most recent issue of PRIDE. Effectively implementing specific SEEAL strategies within the classroom enhances learning, but it  takes time. Time remains one of our most valuable but rare resources. We are committed to dedicating our resources to SEEAL, because doing so is essential for our students’ success. Our students deserve high expectations and opportunities to engage in rich curricular content. They deserve meaningful, quality relationships in safe, supportive classroom environments. They deserve well-being and joy. These factors build students with both head and heart who can go into the world ready to solve pressing issues and connect with our world in a loving and intentional way.