Teaching content and academic skills are essential, but not sufficient without paying equal attention to the whole person in front of you. This is what we mean when we say, “We teach to the whole child.” We are grateful to have Judith Werner join our staff this year. Judith is our K-8 school counselor and has seamlessly made the transition from a similar role in a private boarding school to JCDS. We invite you to read her reflections below.

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While much of our attention this week has been consumed with our efforts to insure a physically safe return to our building, it has struck me that even with the current state of COVID and the enormity of this task alone, the planning has intentionally included safeguarding our children’s social and emotional needs as well. As a newcomer to JCDS, I have again and again been heartened by how much attention is paid to the whole child at JCDS. JCDS faculty and staff take care of each student’s personal needs beyond the rich academic experiences provided, to help them grow into self-confident individuals who care for themselves and have healthy relationships with others.

At JCDS, this work is shared by everyone in the community: from administration, to faculty, staff and parents. In the classroom, our teachers lead social-emotional lessons with a formalized curriculum, including Zones of Regulation and Open Circle in the Lower School, and during advisory and embedded into academic subjects in the Middle School. Informally, teachers at all grade levels reach out to their students to help them navigate social situations, to share their personal thoughts, questions or worries, and consistently support the child to be able to work toward becoming their best self.

As the school counselor, while I do work with students individually as needed, I see the heart of my work being my role as an integral part of the community, helping the children to view my support as a natural extension of their classroom environment. I spend much of my time getting to know the kids in their classrooms by observing and interacting with them, which helps me to be a familiar presence and an effective resource to the teachers. In addition to partnering with teachers, it is of utmost importance to partner with parents. By learning from families’ valuable insights about their children, I am able to serve as a helpful resource to parents.

It is hard to know whether to describe my first four months here at JCDS as long or short. While it has certainly been filled with the typical challenges I would expect to encounter in a school full of children, all heightened by the overlay of COVID, the fact that I walked into a community that values each child as individuals while they are growing into their full selves has made my job that much easier. I am reminded of this on a daily basis: Nitzanim (kindergartners) shouting my name to say “Hi!” every time they see me, no matter how far down the hall I am; middle school students waiting in my office to process something together; and the many parent conversations I have had to help me learn the depth of their child’s personality. All of these tender, interpersonal moments speak to what makes JCDS so special.

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Judith Werner is a school counselor at JDCS.

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