School Sparks: Zones at JCDS

by Karen Bernanke, Director of Student Support Services

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When you walk through the halls of the Lower School, you may hear children excitedly speaking with color-coded vocabulary. I was recently approached by a kindergarten student waving his arms excitedly exclaiming,  “It’s my birthday today! I’m in the yellow zone.” He was appropriately sharing his emotional state and ability to recognize how emotions affect regulation. More often than not, we witness many encounters with peers and teachers in which children accurately identify their emotions using the Zones vocabulary. For example, on any given Monday, coming off of a busy weekend, a child may tell their teacher that they need a little time in the morning before joining their group because they are in the blue zone. This familiar language is part of a curriculum initially adopted by JCDS at the end of 2017 known as The Zones of Regulation. The curriculum addresses the complexities of social-emotional learning in school and at home and fosters self regulation.
BLUE Zone – Used to describe low states of alertness, such as feeling sad, tired, or sick. This is when one’s body is running slowly.
GREEN Zone – Used to describe a regulated state of awareness, often referred to at JCDS as “ready to learn”. This is when one may feel content, calm and focused.
YELLOW Zone – Used to describe a heightened state of alertness. In this zone a person may be experiencing stress, anxiety, or frustration as well as silliness and excitement. The color yellow reminds us that this is when one must “slow down” or go over a speed bump before proceeding.
RED Zone – Used to describe a heightened state of alertness or very intense feelings. When in this zone a person may be feeling anger, panic, terror or even elation. When one is in this zone, it is described as being “out of control.” The color red indicates a STOP sign and a time to utilize tools to regain control.
We firmly believe that the access to social emotional curriculum in the early years is critical to a student’s well being. At JCDS we have worked very hard to integrate the “5 Guiding Principles of Social Emotional Learning” or SEL: Create, Integrate, Communicate, Instruct, and Empower. Our incredible classroom teachers provide nurturing, safe, caring and inviting spaces for positive learning opportunities. The integration of social emotional learning has been enhanced through the adoption of this program that we initially incorporated into grades K through 2 as part of the Lower School social emotional learning curriculum. The Zones curriculum helps students become more aware of and in-control of their emotions and impulses. Students have learned which emotions fit into the four color-coded zones and are able to identify what zone they are in throughout the day. Through weekly lessons taught with the Support Services Department, students also learn coping strategies to manage emotions and return to the green zone to feel more comfortable and ready to learn at school.  Students identify tools to support their growth in this area. Tools include taking breaks, using fidgets and flexible seating, and explicitly-taught calm breathing techniques.
By the end of 2020, all students in grades K through 4 will have benefitted from The Zones of Regulation curriculum. The language continues to be used throughout the school and the program has been deemed a success as students are able to indicate their emotional state, advocate for their needs, and use strategies to re-enter the green zone where they are truly ready to learn!
The School Sparks blog appears periodically by various writers among the JCDS educational team. Learn more about JCDS, Boston’s Jewish Community Day School.

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