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STRENGTHENING FOUNDATIONS WITH LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all." - Aristotle


Humans are essentially emotional beings, guided by curiosity and experiences. Learning is best facilitated in places where we feel safe. On average, a child spends 14-15 years in school—critical years for laying the foundation of their life and experiencing personal growth and development. Alongside acquiring academic knowledge, children must learn essential skills that empower and motivate them to flourish. Schools play a crucial role in developing habits associated with self-care, teaching how to navigate stressors, fostering healthy interpersonal relationships, and instilling various social and emotional skills. It's evident that schools and educators carry a tremendous responsibility.


In my 30 years of experience collaborating with students, teachers, and parents, I've gathered knowledge and insights related to laying the foundation for holistic development. I began working with school children early in my career and, as both a parent and a doctor, observed and contributed to their growth and development. Children face various physical and emotional challenges during this period of significant change. In my career journey, I recognized the importance of preventive medicine and the significance of socio-emotional wellbeing for children. School health programs can be an essential part of this growth path. This realization led to the inception of the Health & Wellness Programme at Blue Bells Group of Schools. Little did we know at the time that this initiative would grow significantly, yielding fulfilling fruits.


According to the World Health Organization, 'A health-promoting school constantly strengthens its capacity as a healthy setting for living, learning, and working.' The desire to provide such a setting for young minds prompted us to consider how we could equip our students and teachers to develop empathy and contribute meaningfully to society. This consideration led us to another question: Can specific skills prepare our children to face life's challenges and navigate them successfully?


Interactions with students, teachers, and parents have revealed that they not only value abilities such as coping with stress, understanding oneself and others, effective communication, managing emotions, and problem-solving skills but also believe that these abilities help lead fulfilling and purposeful lives. Schools can provide a supportive environment to students, teachers, and parents by incorporating these essential skills into the curriculum. Much of my work has focused on developing life skills in students and teachers—abilities for adaptive and positive behavior enabling individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life (WHO).


STRENGTHENING FOUNDATIONS WITH LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION

Educational institutions can have a profound impact by providing children with an educational experience that promotes wellness, imparts life skills, and emphasizes values. Wellness contributes to children's mental and physical health, life skills equip them with valuable resources, and values provide an ethical foundation. When integrated, these elements establish a solid groundwork for children to achieve life goals, make responsible choices, and lead fulfilling, meaningful lives. In fact, to mitigate serious health risks in youth and integrate the education sector into efforts to transform the social, political, educational, and economic environments affecting risk, the World Health Organization encourages schools to invest in school health programs.


With a 43-year legacy, Blue Bells Group of Schools in Gurugram has been molding the lives of its students by providing a fertile ground to develop and practice these life skills. At Blue Bells, we believe that to offer a comprehensive education, we must nurture in children the interconnected dimensions of values, life skills, and wellness. The Health & Wellness Programme for Blue Bells Group of Schools in Gurugram was designed with a strong vision to equip students with knowledge and awareness of their health and well-being, ensuring a robust foundation for their childhood.


The modern age has adopted a holistic approach to well-being, and with advancements in technology and changes in educational methods, today's children need to be more engaged and involved in almost all facets of learning. In a supportive environment where social and emotional learning is emphasized alongside academics, students have a better chance of enhancing self-awareness, improving confidence, and evolving into socially responsible citizens. To keep pace with challenges and meet the needs of children, the Health & Wellness program continually strives to set the tone for new projects, goals, and aspirations with the aim of improving students' health, happiness, and well-being. A multitude of events and celebrations, along with exceptional values education and life skills classes, provide students with tools to adapt to the various changes in their lives.


This initiative, which initially focused on the health and well-being of all stakeholders, has evolved over time and now includes a full-fledged team of doctors, nurses, counselors, special educators, and life skills facilitators trained to empower students, teachers, and parents. The Health & Wellness Programme comprises various facets, detailed below.


VALUES EDUCATION AND LIFE SKILLS EDUCATION PROGRAMME AND GROUP WORK FOR STUDENTS


"A brilliant student prepared well for the exam but was unable to recall the answers in the examination hall and was overcome with fear."


"An amazing player has difficulty playing in a team as they find it difficult to get along with other team members."


These scenarios may resonate with educators and parents alike. As children grow, they must navigate through peer pressure, academics, career choices, and social norms. Schools play a pivotal role in facilitating skill development and assisting students in acquiring life skills such as self-awareness, effective communication, coping with stress, interpersonal relationships, and refusal techniques. Values education and life skills education classes are integral components of our curriculum for students. These classes offer essential support and guidance for students to internalize values and life skills, enabling them to lead balanced and healthy lives.


To instill values and life skills in students, we employ innovative methodologies, including cinema-based programs, stories, videos, case studies, role-plays, brainstorming, group discussions, simulations, and experiential theatre-based activities. These activities are complemented by insightful discussions and effective assignments and worksheets. In classroom settings, we actively engage students, guiding them in analyzing situations and encouraging the application of these skills in their own lives. Facilitators undergo training to conduct interactive, experiential sessions, adhering to guidelines outlined by the CBSE Manuals on Life Skills Education and Values Education.


Moreover we have included the School Cinema Program as a part of the school curriculum. School Cinema is an ingenious learning module on life skills, values and attitudes, developed through research and taught using age-appropriate short films. Each and every School cinema movie is made to generate thinking and self-reflection. They make children probe into the deeper, more important lessons than just the surface of films. These are accompanied with fun-filled activities, thoughtful discussion and effectual work books. Additionally the program provides short films for parents and teachers. These have been particularly beneficial to help them build perspective on life skills education.


Furthermore, we incorporate CBSE Values Education Cards into our learning process. These cards reinforce values in a simple and engaging manner through age-appropriate stories and activities. Our counselors, life skills facilitators, and school doctors conduct sessions on various topics, including safe touch, puberty, empathy, decision-making, managing stress, and problem-solving, among others. These modules are specially designed in-house by the Health & Wellness Resource Center Team. Special sessions are also conducted with senior students on topics such as substance abuse, anti-bullying, study skills, goal setting, and managing examination stress. Concurrently, value education, life skills education, and gender sensitivity have been integrated into academic subjects to ensure holistic education. Our goal is to integrate life skills and values education in all aspects of the institution, including lesson planning and inter and intra-school events.





TEACHER EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME


To sensitize teachers to the values and beliefs of the Health & Wellness Programme, we regularly organize and conduct various sessions with them. An integral part of this training is the Advanced Teacher Training Programme (ATTP). The ATTP, facilitated by ADEPT - A Programme for Enhancing Life Skills powered by wellnesswise.in, is an in-service training program developed by the Health & Wellness Resource Center Team. The primary purpose of this in-service training is to equip teachers and staff with the instructional skills needed to develop a holistic curriculum. The ATTP covers topics such as empowering oneself, understanding the developmental needs of various age groups, and engaging children in classrooms. The main objective is to help teachers identify their interests, aspirations, strengths, and weaknesses, thereby increasing their motivation in the workplace.



Other topics covered in sessions with teachers include Perspective Building on Life Skill Education & Integrating it into Lesson Planning, Child Protection Policy, POSCO Act & JJ Act, Communicating Effectively with Adolescents, Rethink Discipline: The Positive Discipline Approach, Understanding Emotions, Anti-Bullying, and Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace.


RAAHEIN - THE POSITIVE PARENTING GUIDE


Children actively seek guidance, affection, and encouragement throughout their lives. Strengthening positive parenting skills not only provides children with a sense of safety but also nurtures essential life skills in them. With the goal of ensuring the overall well-being of children, Wellness Wise by Dr. Alka launched another unique initiative, 'Raahein - The Positive Parenting Guide.' These workshops are interactive learning sessions involving hands-on activities, emphasizing understanding various developmental stages and their challenges. Parents are encouraged to engage in open conversations with their children, who are trying to comprehend the world through their unique lenses.


WELLNESS WISE


Wellness in body, mind, and spirit is the key to a successful and contented life. To maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being, it's essential to know how. Focusing on these aspects enables us to deal with the challenges of everyday life. With the objective of reaching a large audience of youngsters and adults alike and sharing knowledge and experiences on life skills, health, and well-being, I launched my blog, Wellness Wise by Dr. Alka, on October 20, 2021. Articles on a plethora of topics can be found on www.wellnesswise.in.


ADEPT - A PROGRAM FOR ENHANCING LIFE SKILLS


Once the school's Health & Wellness Programme had become a well-established initiative that increased sensitization and enhanced the skills of all stakeholders in our institutes, we were motivated to spread our wings further and expand our knowledge and skill set to other sections of society. Hence, ADEPT was conceptualized and established. 'ADEPT - A Program for Enhancing Life Skills' is committed to nurturing an optimistic and supportive association among all members of the school community. We work to provide support in the form of preventive measures by focusing on solution-based approaches in training. At ADEPT, we integrate the intellectual, socio-emotional, and ethical facets of learning, using Life Skills Education as a base for our training programs. Thinking skills, social skills, and emotional skills are the key components of this program. We focus on topics like decision-making, self-awareness, interpersonal relationships, effective communication, and empathy. Research shows that these skills improve academic achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, increase prosocial behaviors, improve student attitudes toward school, and reduce depression and stress among students (Durlak et al., 2011).


ADEPT's strength lies in developing content for students, teachers, and parents after meticulous and extensive research. Our expertise lies in designing and facilitating training, developing modules, and setting up health and wellness programs. One key feature of ADEPT is to help set up a Health & Wellness Program in other schools, aiming to expand our footprint to other organizations in the education sector for the benefit of students nationwide.




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