St. Joseph’s College President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., kicked off a joint press conference Monday morning in SJC Long Island’s McGann Center, announcing the campus’ partnership with Sesame Workshop and Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) Foundation through the launching of the program “Brave, Strong, Resilient.”
The program trains in-service and pre-service early childhood educators on new, carefully developed exercises to help children build confidence and control their emotions in an emergency, such as a natural disaster.
“I’m going to say something that I never thought I would as the president of the College: ‘Welcome to Elmo’s World,'” said Dr. Boomgaarden, referring to Sesame Street’s popular television segment. “There are a lot of wonderful people here who are contributing to this event … I’m so thrilled to have all of you with us today to talk about this special relationship between PSEG, St. Joseph’s College and Sesame Street.”
Gail C. Lamberta, Ph.D., associate dean of community development, professor and chair of the recreation and leisure studies department, and coordinator of experiential learning, will take charge of the program at St. Joseph’s. Chair of child study Renee M. White-Clark, Ed.D., and her colleagues S. Mary Ann Cashin, C.S.J., and Pamela Renneisen are supporting Dr. Lamberta’s efforts.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, alumnus NYS Assemblyman Douglas Smith, an official from U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin‘s office and Village of Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri attended the press conference alongside Sesame Street’s very own Elmo.
Teaching New Techniques
A group of children wearing yellow PSEG hard hats frolicked into SJC Long Island’s conference center on Monday, eager to meet Elmo at the end of the press conference.
The children — aged 3 to 7 — are the target demographic for the curriculum, which teaches children how to label, express and manage their feelings; understand the feelings of those around them; calm down when they are frustrated or have a problem; identify a problem and come up with ways to solve it; and ask adults for help.
The “Brave, Strong Resilient” program will be taught to junior-year child study students at SJC Long Island who are already working in the field, explained Dr. White-Clark. It gives the blossoming teachers time to learn and develop these new skills before they enter local school districts as full-time educators on Long Island.
The program will pilot this fall in a four-year, four-phase timeline, impacting more than 400 children in the first year alone, Dr. White-Clark added.
Teachers will focus on pre and post assessments and evaluations on students’ social and emotional learning, to judge the success of the curriculum. Parents will receive a special family guide to continue the teaching process at home.
The curriculum will expand to the other UPK programs, and eventually to kindergarten classrooms, as the program develops.
“Children face such hardships these days — they don’t just live in Elmo’s World,” Dr. White-Clark said. “Just like one great philosopher (Elmo) once asked, ‘If life is fair, why do roses have thorns?’ And unfortunately, some of our little children have to experience those thorns.
“But I think with this program, they will have the tools to pull the thorns off themselves, steer them from life’s challenges that they unfortunately have to experience,” she added.
An Exciting Partnership
The leaders of the three organizations — Dr. Boomgaarden, PSEG President and Chief Operating Officer Dan Eichhorn, and Sesame Workshop Chief Development Officer Sheila Kelly — expressed gratitude on Monday as the program was announced to the public.
“I believe that one of the secrets of St. Joseph’s sustained excellence in preparing teachers is the College’s emphasis on providing a foundation for lifelong intellectual, spiritual and personal growth,” Dr. Boomgaarden said. “Our new partnership with the PSEG Foundation and Sesame Street aligns perfectly with this; by having our aspiring educators adopt this new curriculum with its emphasis on developing emotional resilience, we are ensuring that these students will have the personal foundation they need as they form and work towards their dreams.”
Eichhorn added to that sentiment, emphasizing the importance of teaching young children about safety.
“PSEG Long Island spends all year making sure the electrical grid is as resilient as possible for when a natural disaster occurs, and we want to give every parent the chance to accomplish the same thing with their little ones,” he said. “Thanks to the PSEG Foundation, Sesame Workshop and St. Joseph’s College, we will soon have teachers in our schools who can use this innovative new program to help children handle the feelings, stress and challenges they may face during a severe storm — and over the course of their whole lives.”
Kelly said she is proud of her company’s partnership with St. Joseph’s and PSEG — especially as Sesame Street celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“We created “Brave, Strong, Resilient” to help young children develop the self-confidence, problem-solving skills and emotional tools they need to cope with adversity. These skills are so important for all children. I know from my own two small daughters, when they are faced with an unexpected challenge, sometimes their first instinct is to be brave and face it head on. And, sometimes… not so much.
“As a parent, it meant so much for me to realize that bravery, and strength, and resilience are learned behaviors,” she continued. “That we can give our children — and all children — the tools to build these critical skills. Since every one of us will face adversity at some point, it’s nice to know we can help children learn to cope with challenges and thrive.”