Building Connections in Schools

by Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, Silicon Valley, CA

[Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, Ph.D. is the author of “Working with Groups to Enhance Relationships”, and is coordinator of the narrative therapy internship at Bay Area Family Therapy Training Associates in Cupertino, California.]

Communities of Support

When one hears “Silicon Valley,” one thinks: “high-tech, computer chips, and the Internet boom.” Silicon Valley is a place of individual achievement, high prices, and big money. It is also a place where people are struggling to find connection, to find a community of belonging. An unfortunate, and often unspoken, byproduct of capitalism is the experience of isolation and disconnection. Silicon Valley workers often complain of having no time, no one to talk to, little social life. Sometimes the effects are discouragement, feeling marginalized, depression and anxiety (see our section on Depression under Problems). Parents speak of spending long hours at work, sometimes traveling, having precious little time to spend with their kids (see also our articles on the “Curse” of Perfect Parenting under Problem).

In this context, Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin, Ph.D., a French-Canadian who came to California in the early 90’s, decided it only made sense to involve people in communities of support. Working in elementary school programs, she noticed how classrooms provide easy access to the creation of community. Yet more often than not school counselors work with children individually. In contrast, she began to help subgroups of children in a classroom work together.

“Success spies” was one of the first programs Marie-Nathalie created. Several young people who had developed long-standing “troubled” reputations joined together to notice and document each other’s “successes.” Soon the entire class became a team for each other in noticing efforts to overcome difficulties. Teachers became involved as team members and as an “audience” to kids’ victories.

The “Bugging Bug” project is a more recent program in which kids show appreciation and tolerance of their classmates instead of showing disrespect, peer abuse, or bullying each other. Again, entire classrooms and schools become communities of support in which people acknowledge each other’s efforts.

Taking these ideas to a larger network, Dr. Beaudoin developed an online journal, “Silencing Critical Voices” which offers the opportunity for people to share their experiences and learn from others. The site includes writings from a variety of persons (kids, teachers, counselors, parents) who have overcome a wide range of struggles. It invites others to join in the project of “silencing critical voices.”

Currently, Marie-Nathalie Beaudoin is writing for publication to make these programs more widely known. See www.voices.com for excerpts from the work and the actual words of some of the members of these communities of support. By developing such communities, these schools are answering the isolationism and disconnection so prevalent in “Silicon Valley.”

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