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"Fos"tering our Cubs

Mayfield’s Formation of Self (FoS) program is one of the most direct ways in which our Holy Child values foster and nurture each and every student. But especially for new students and new families, the program can be a bit of a mystery in the beginning. What are the materials shared, and what ways is that information delivered? How are lessons discussed, planned and implemented? So we sat down with two integral members of the FoS team Lyn Beecher—Learning Specialist, and Erika Mastrobuono—School Counselor—to explain how important this program is to the Mayfield community and how it is ever-evolving and ready to take on a new challenge. 

What are the bare bones of the program? What happens in each grade?
BEECHER: FoS is a multi-disciplinary program taught by a cohort of MSS faculty and staff, designed to serve students during all four years at Mayfield. And in a nutshell, think of the FoS Scope and Sequence as the curriculum embodiment of our Holy Child philosophy and mission. Cornelia Connelly famously said, “Be yourself, only make that self all that God wants it to be.” The curriculum strives to support our students in all dimensions of the wellness wheel: socially, physically, emotionally, occupationally, spiritually, intellectually, environmentally and financially. 

9th grade focuses on the 360 degrees of learning—Ann Bussard is “curriculum lead” there—and she focuses on adjusting to high school and study strategies. In 10th grade, Kristina Ortega’s curriculum focuses on healthy identities and strengthening everyone’s justice and equity skillset, informed by Catholic social teaching and Actions not Words, shaping that justice vocabulary. In 11th grade, Erika Mastrobuono focuses on mental health issues and breaking down stigmas and normalizing asking/seeking help and support. In 12th grade Lynn Maloney and Amy Lareau take the lead, primarily focusing on the college application process in the fall, and in the spring the focus is on soon-to-be-graduates launching into adulthood. We have our other all-stars including Melissa Tighe (Financial Literacy) and Cathy Cota (Women’s Health), who work as guest speakers in all grades. And Ms. Mastrobuono visits all grades discussing mental health resources as well.
As a learning specialist and school counselor, have you seen students learn something from FoS specifically, and then come to seek out services? Maybe in ways they may not have pursued without that initial scaffolding?

MASTROBUONO: We have countless examples of that! I have received numerous emails after instructing a class, when students reach out after and say, “Hey, you were talking about anxiety in class today and I feel like I might be in that category where I'm worrying too much. Is it something I can talk to you about?” Or, “In FoS you were saying that it's okay to ask for help. And I'm not really sure why I'm here or what kind of help I need…” and then there'll be a pause, and then they'll just start crying. They do know why they're there, but they need that permission to let it out in a safe place. I love being able to provide that space.

BEECHER: Yes! I had a half a dozen girls—a 9th grader, a 10th grader and a few 11th graders— who emailed me this summer, saying, “I want to set academic success as my goal. And I want to reach out to you right now and make sure that I can get on your list for a meeting.” And I thought, wow. It is exciting to me that a 9th grader and a 10th grader that have been through FOS  with Ann Bussard, and really heard her say, “We're here for you. And this is who's here for you, and choose who you want to work with.” These girls were proactive and advocated for themselves. In all of their emails there was a common sentiment: “This is a goal I'm setting for myself.” I mean, what great confirmation that our students are  hearing our words and great that they are motivated to take advantage of all of the support and resources available to them. 

How has COVID-19 informed what (or how) you teach? How do you retool the FoS curriculum every year?

MASTROBOUNO: Specifically with COVID, the mental health crisis in this country made a jump that it has never made before. Adolescent mental health is all over the news at the moment. In my clinical experience treating adolescent depression—one of the most successful interventions has been to increase social support. During COVID, that was more challenging than ever. I think it's really hard for people to ask for help. It's hard for adults to ask for help. Even those of us who know it's good for us and those of us who have done it in the past, it still always feels like, “Oh, well, I don't want to bother you. I’ll be fine.” I said to my class this morning, “Learning about mental health in FOS is about identifying how you feel for yourself first. And that's based on your environment, your history, your life experience, family values, and all of your expectations of yourself and from others. The goal is that you identify authentically what you feel, because then if something's wrong—not that something always has to be wrong—but if something is wrong, your self-awareness will inform how to best ask for help and make an adjustment.”

BEECHER: We really do put a lot of weight on the girls' feedback. So the end of the year surveys really inform our planning.. What was a home run? What fell flat? And we talk amongst ourselves to figure out who's best to deliver the message, because we also know that the messenger makes a big difference. We are always on the grow! For instance, we have observed that students need practice with up close and personal people skills…not everything is about a text or an email. We want our students to present themselves to the world the way we know them confident and capable! Simple gestures like shaking a hand,  looking somebody in the eye, picking up the phone and making a cold call for an internship or a job opportunity make an impression.  We  are planning to get Maryanne Householder (Mayfield’s Theatre Director) to teach the students how to cultivate a certain amount of stage presence. We are speaking to the Dance Teacher (Sarah Alaways) about helping us design a unit on movement and mindfulness.

Also this year, we are being intentional to plan lessons that will focus on increasing or finding the student’s motivation and energizing students to stay on track to reach their individual goals, and improve their quality of life at school, at home, and beyond, by drawing on their faith, tapping into their inner grit, and strengthening their ever-developing resilience. 

What do you think makes FoS so special? And how do FoS team members follow up on the well-being of students outside of the FoS classroom?

BEECHER: I have never been in a program like this. I came out of all public school experiences. I was an assistant principal at a local middle school, and I oversaw all of our learning accommodations. We had good practices  in place and we had two counselors, but it felt like we were watering the desert, to be quite honest. We were not, “meeting the wants of the age” or the needs of our students. All good people, all well-trained, but it just didn't work. We didn't have the connections and the relationships and we didn't take the time—quite frankly—we weren't afforded the time. At Mayfield, FOS planning and curriculum implementation is a priority! I do think that in moments like COVID, and in moments where it feels like the sky is falling, FOS can really tackle issues in real time and reach and teach students in good times and in bad.
 
Also, all members of FoS participate in weekly student support meetings (meetings which also include the Head of School, Asst. Head of School, Director of JDEI, and other senior members of school administration), and this group looks at every student  from 9th to 12th grade. I just have never been at another school that has that commitment with the talent and the experience of everybody that's on that team.  We worked really hard to get the information from our deans, our teachers, our coaches etc…

MASTROBOUNO: I did individual and family therapy in many schools and also in private practice and this is similar, but the team collaboration makes it different. As Lyn said, there's such a wide range of talent and experience on the student support team, which is great. And that's part of why I wanted to work at Mayfield. The support team really cares about connecting with the students. We're really going to find them, even if they don't come to us first. And it's more than, “We're not letting anybody fall through the cracks.” We're reaching out to students, getting to know them, making sure that everybody is accounted for. We get collaboration from the teachers who come to us with names that they have concerns about. Everybody's name that comes to us is on somebody's radar and we're following up on taking care of them. We have eyes on everyone.


What do you most want students and families to know about FoS? How do you hope they will use the resources FoS provides?

MASTROBUONO: FoS topics can be a window into what adolescents are actually experiencing, more than what you hear on the news. It is a way to connect with them about things that are important to them, and things you might not think about. The curriculum is introduced as a way to spark conversations about things like sleep patterns, anxiety, healthy relationships etc. We're not going to be helping students if we just create this idealistic content that doesn't actually mirror their real lives. We're trying to go beyond the facade of perfectionism. It’s somewhat normalized to have teenagers not want to talk to their parents. But asking about  FoS might be a unique opportunity for parents to hear what their daughters are experiencing personally by talking about this class. Because we know it doesn’t always work to ask for specifics about our children’s lives directly. I think FoS can be a good way for parents just to get a window into the student perspective and everyday student experience.

BEECHER: One of the blessings of the pandemic is that everybody realizes that the social, emotional piece of education is not an add-on—it's integral. It's integral to academic success. Now more than ever, it’s clear to me how essential this 4-year FoS curriculum supports every aspect of the entire Mayfield educational experience. FoS is social emotional learning at its finest. This might sound like New Age curriculum, but it all goes back to Cornelia Connelly really. This is what meeting the wants of the age looks like, in this century, with technology, and the experience of these girls. It’s holistic learning and the embodiment of our Holy Child goals. It’s who we are, who we’ve always been, and who will always be.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.