When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. - Alexander Den Heijer
Laura Rauman watched her flower, daughter Morgan, struggle with the environment she was in.
Morgan needed something different. A school that honored her unique neuro-diverse needs while encouraging her strengths, teaching her about herself and the world around her. And thus the seeds for a new way were planted.
Laura, the owner of Vista360, a financial services and management consulting company, saw the opportunity to expand the education options within her hometown, and society at large. With the support of Vista360 and a hand-selected team of educators and business savvy individuals, Laura researched worldwide best practices for educating children with specialized needs.
In 2017, the framework for a new developmental approach to education was born - one that was committed to bolstering the joy of learning for children with neuro-diverse needs. With love and nurturing, the framework blossomed into Bloom360 Learning Community, a nonprofit school in southeastern Wisconsin for Learners ages 5 to 21.
“We provide a much-needed alternative to special education programs serving students with special needs,” said Cindy Gosh-Lee, Program Guide for Bloom360.
The multi-disciplinary team at Bloom360 has a mission to identify and nurture each Learner’s strengths to cultivate positive and authentic relationships that support each Learner’s growth from his/her developmental uniqueness. At the base of this, Bloom360 focuses on five core elements:
- Emotional: Identifying, processing and expressing emotions
- Body: Nurturing our physical bodies including movement, balance, and awareness
- Social: Cultivating our relationship with self and others
- Spirit: Following our inner compass; developing our sense of purpose and meaning
- Mind: Growing our minds through academics, mindfulness, critical thinking and problem solving
These five pillars guide the strength-based, interest-driven curriculum at Bloom360.
Learners begin the day with movement including activities such as a walk through nature or swinging. They then begin their first of two learning blocks. These learning blocks are project-based and focus on the Learner’s interests to teach important life skills as well as address their individual social-emotional goals.
“We look for opportunities to connect Learners with people in the community who share their interests,” Cindy states. “As such, we offer partnerships with Vista360 where Learners have the opportunity to learn about the facets of a business. We also partner with Willow Creek Ranch for therapeutic horseback riding, have a studio with art and hand and power tools, and a full kitchen to explore cooking and baking.”
Dawn Frasa, Bloom360’s Communications Director, adds, “Learners also have the opportunity to partake in a micro-business with a mini cart, picking a recipe a week to bake, then package the goods and sell to staff and families.” She continues, “Some Learners will bake, others do the budget … there is an opportunity for a wide scope of interests and skills. This is how we marry the Learner’s interests with practical skills that serve them lifelong.”
Bloom360 is also one of the few schools in the country that use Dr. Greenspan’s Floortime model to maximize communication, interacting, and learning.
“Our goal is to meet every Learner where they are and to celebrate their unique character strengths for a pathway to living a fulfilling life,” shares Cindy.
When a Bloom360 team member came across Generation Mindful, she reached out to Suzanne, founder of GENM, to learn more about the playful products. Suzanne gifted Bloom360 a Time-In ToolKit for every classroom.
“We started using the ToolKit’s Calming Corner last year and used the PeaceMakers cards at a professional development event, along with the Personal Triggers Worksheet.”
Dawn and Cindy explain how the team then decided to further integrate the GENM tools and toys into their school. “It really fits so nicely. The PeaceMakers cards and using the Calming Corners in every classroom helps address and support our pillars, especially the social and emotional aspects. This past summer we decided to base our 2019/20 school year curriculum themes around the PeaceMakers themes - Power, Joy, Balance, Love, Peace, Intuition, and Forgiveness.”
Dawn shares, “For each theme, we start with a letter home to parents and we integrate the themes into our educational model as we nurture each of the core elements: Mind, Body, Spirit, Social and Emotional. Each theme encompasses activities and projects that create practice zones in which our Learners can expand their understanding and recognition of emotions within themselves and others. We introduce a new theme after 5-7 weeks.”
Themes in Practice
Bloom360 utilizes the VIA Institute’s 24 Character Strengths Framework within their educational model, helping Learners recognize that each human has their own set of gifts - each person a unique mix of these character strengths.
“Some character strengths come easier to us than others and we express them differently,” shares Cindy. “Rather than tell each Learner which character strengths they should have, we encourage each Learner to express what is innately within them, and the PeaceMakers themes help emphasize these innate powers.”
The themes and character strengths pull together the whole Learner, bridging practical, academic, and social-emotional skills.
Bloom360 brings Three PeaceMakers themes to life for their Learners:
For Power, Bloom360 created the school mantra, “I am in charge of my own feelings, thoughts, and actions” and focused on the character strengths of bravery, self-control, perseverance and love of learning.
Bloom360 uses its Calming Corners for guided meditation practices (using the Breathe Kids app) and utilizes art to create a unique expression of how power looks and feels. This is done through various project-based opportunities. One such project was called “This Is Me” - a body tracing activity that encompassed the five key elements.
- Body: What happens in our bodies when we are hungry? What cues do our bodies give us? This allows Learners to develop recognition by noticing their body signals.
- Emotional: What emotions do we experience when hungry?
- Social: Learners had the opportunity to visit a local apple orchard, recognizing the differences in taste as they surveyed the team about their taste preferences.
- Spirit: Here Learners developed the understanding of nurturing the body to honor its basic needs, instilling that self-kindness is powerful.
- Mind: Math and science concepts were utilized to compile data and graph the apple taste preferences.
Bloom360’s Mantra for Joy was, “I feel joy when I can be myself and feel all of my emotions,” which highlighted the character strengths of zest, curiosity, and honesty.
For this theme, the Learners made books and posters about their joy, answering, “I feel joy when …” and also took time reflecting at the end of each day about what brought them joy.
Five core elements incorporating Joy:
- Body: What does joy feel like in the body? How can you move your body in a way that feels joyful?
- Emotional: The PeaceMakers mindfulness cards were shared and discussed.
- Social: Learners focused on increasing awareness of others and what brings joy within the community.
- Spirit: Learners discovered how to nurture and honor their spirit by doing what brings them joy.
- Mind: Learners found ways to exercise their Joy mantra throughout the day.
Most recently, Bloom360 has been living in the theme of Balance with the school mantra, “I create balance in my life by doing things in the right amount - not too much, not too little.” Learners and staff alike, focus on the character strengths of teamwork, hope, self-regulation, and fairness.
For this theme, the Learners created scales and practiced balancing activities.
“We talk about balance and how, when we have the right amount, we are in balance. We explore what the right amount is in keeping our bodies and minds with healthy food, sleep, and exercise,” Dawn shares.
Bloom360 brings this theme to life through obstacle courses and building structures, testing their stability.
Five core elements incorporated into Balance:
- Body: How do we take care of our bodies with the right amount of sleep, nutritious food, water, and exercise?
- Emotional: How does the "character strength" of self-regulation relate to our emotions?
- Social: How do we balance spending time with others and spending time alone?
- Spirit: What does our inner compass feel like when we are in balance? Out of balance?
- Mind: How do we balance our emotions, thoughts, and actions? And how do we take care of our brains? One lesson taught was that too much screen time, junk food, and/or sugar can cause our brains to be out of balance.
Closing the Bloom360 Day
To end a day at Bloom360, Learners and staff ground in gratitude. During this time of reflection, Learners are asked open-ended questions using the character strengths and PeaceMakers cards as inspiration. As Dawn and Cindy reveal, the responses are miraculous.
“I used my perseverance today,” exclaimed one Learner. Another shared “I used my bravery!”
With this comprehensive educational approach, Bloom360 is making change for their community by shaping the lives of the Learners and families they serve. With a focus on the whole-brain and whole-child, Bloom360 serves as a platform for each Learner to find their inner light so that their light can be shared with the world!
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