Creating Community to Help Students Thrive

At Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, relationships and trust are key to academic success for students.

Saying “hi” and having a few moments of levity before heading to class is such an important part of a student’s day at school. After all, those moments can set a positive tone for learning. When the spread of COVID-19 caused schools to shift to remote learning, though, those interactions were immediately put on pause.

But at Academy of the Sacred Heart, the oldest independent school in Michigan, located in Bloomfield Hills, the staff knew students needed those moments, so they built them into the school day.

“In our Middle School for Girls, they still had a hangout in the hall, so one of our educators would open up a Zoom meeting and students would just pop in,” says Dr. Korin Visocchi, the academy’s Associate Head of School and Chief Learning Officer. There was no agenda, quiz or prompts — students simply got to chat like they normally would, and that was crucial, she notes.

“They could start their day ready to learn because they got to a place where they felt calm and connected,” Visocchi says.

Creating a sense of community is important at the Academy of the Sacred Heart.

“One of the things about Sacred Heart education is understanding your gifts and those of others. So we want to create, and we aim to create, an environment where each child thrives,” she says. “This commitment to small classrooms (and) commitment to social action, is important to us.”

Creating community, knowing that you’re loved, having a sense of academic integrity (making sure students learn where they are at because each student deserves a chance to grow) — these are all important components of each child’s education.

“Every child has the capacity to learn and be the best version of themselves, and it is our great responsibility to do that in a way that honors each student, each family and builds a sense of community so that there can be hope for the future,” she says. “And now more than ever, we need to create students who have a social awareness, which impels to action.”

Here, Visocchi discusses the importance of community and how cultivating a child’s emotional intelligence is crucial to the whole child approach.

RULER program

Building a community based on mutual respect, trust and compassion is top of mind at Academy of the Sacred Heart.

“To have a strong community, first we need to make sure that each child knows that they are innately and deeply loved and we all come with our own sets of gifts and talents,” Visocchi says, “and part of understanding who you are in the world is to appreciate the gifts that you have and the gifts that others bring.”

The Academy of the Sacred Heart staff wants kids to emerge as the best version of themselves, so they can go out in the world and make a difference, she adds.

In order to do that, the school focuses on a child’s emotional well-being through one of its initiatives, known as RULER. This stands for recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing and regulating. It comes from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and it’s an initiative that Academy of the Sacred Heart has been using for two years. The goal? To give students the ability to own, name and understand their feelings, which helps them develop their emotional intelligence, or EQ. And that boasts big benefits for their education and futures.

“Our faculty training in the Yale’s RULER program underscores how emotions drive learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships, and health,” she adds. “In each classroom, our students are used to using the Mood Meter to give a name for their feelings. The Mood Meter allows students to be aware of their emotions and gives them the vocabulary to identify how they feel.”

Parents can do this at home with their children, too, by making their own family charter, or agreement, with collective agreed-upon norms for how everyone would like to be treated.

To get started, gather as a family when everyone is feeling calm, focused, and ready to work together and review the mood meter and ask everyone to write down five feelings in response to: How would you like to feel at home? Then as a family, narrow down your list to the “top five” words and write them down.

The second part of this exercise is to discuss the things that would help each person experience more of the “top five” feelings. For example, saying good morning, knocking before entering a bedroom, or taking the plates to the sink. The third step is putting it all together into a family charter. As a family, use your collective talent to create a charter that everyone signs and is clearly displayed. To keep your charter alive, consider having a weekly check-in to see what is working, and what needs to be done differently.

“You’re giving your child permission to feel exactly how they are feeling,” which is exactly what they do at Academy of the Sacred Heart. “Being small, back to that ‘small by design’ community, we are able to give each child the capacity to understand their emotional intelligence and how they access it,” Visocchi says.

Content brought to you by Academy of the Sacred Heart. For more information, visit


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