Local Church Sponsors Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice in Supporting the Emotional Health of Upper Manhattan Students

This fall, Bank Street’s Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice is partnering with the Church of Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side to bring emotionally responsive resources to the PS 153 Adam Clayton Powell public school in Upper Manhattan. The collaboration was born out of a shared mission to support the mental and emotional health of students in underserved school communities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The partnership began in Spring 2022 when Deborah Vilas, GSE ‘93, Course Instructor and Supervised Fieldwork Advisor at Bank Street Graduate School of Education and member of the vestry of the Church of Heavenly Rest, introduced the clergy to colleague Lesley Koplow. As Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at Bank Street, Koplow works with her team to help educators and administrators implement routines and curricula that respond to the emotional needs of children.

“My idea to introduce Lesley [to the clergy] came out of my involvement with the church’s efforts to address the profound mental health needs that the pandemic uncovered, especially the lack of mental health resources for children in our city,” said Vilas. “I thought that she would be an invaluable resource and that she might have ideas about how the church could serve the community and assist with the lack of mental health services for children.”

After meeting Koplow, the Church of Heavenly Rest decided to host the mental health expert for an online forum to discuss emotionally responsive practice, the mental and emotional needs of children in a post-pandemic world, and how Bank Street’s Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice works to better school communities. Following the forum, the clergy launched a fundraising campaign that would allow the church to sponsor an on-site training for educators at PS 153 Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem led by Koplow and the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice.

“As people of faith, we are committed to the flourishing of our city and the thriving of our children,” said Anne Marie Witchger, Associate Rector and Chief of Staff, Church of Heavenly Rest. We believe that the church has an important role to play in supporting not just the spiritual health and physical needs of our communities, but social and emotional health as well. We think ERP is such an important investment for our kids, especially in underserved communities. We’re grateful to Lesley for her work and for the opportunity to partner. We think this could be a good model for other faith communities interested in supporting education, healing, and hope in our city.”

The Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice has previously worked with PS 153 during the pandemic, leading five sessions of remote professional development for staff and two on-site visits to support the implementation of emotionally responsive resources. The administration was interested in receiving further support from Koplow’s team during the 2022-23 school year—a call that was answered by the Church of Heavenly Rest. 

“The Church of the Heavenly Rest’s commitment to supporting our city’s children in the wake of COVID-19 will allow PS 153 to realize their vision of providing comfort and support to their community,” said Koplow.

Teddy bearsIn its next round of work at PS 153, the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice will focus specifically on helping educators apply the Teddy Bears in Traumatic Times approach, which uses teddy bears to help children self-comfort, empathize with themselves and others, express their feelings, and share in their experiences. In the process, educators will further their understanding of the impact of emotionally responsive practice, which builds from deep knowledge of child development, research on the effect of social and emotional experiences on the developing brain, and the proven positive effects of working partnerships between educators and school-based clinicians. 

“Partnering with Bank Street and a community public school is empowering to all involved,” said Vilas. “Emotionally Responsive Practice is grounded in the developmental-interaction approach, which sees children as capable of solving problems when given the resources. It values the context of learning within a caring relationship that values emotions and expression as well as critical thinking. When a teacher is emotionally responsive, they see the whole child before them from a strength-based perspective. This is how our church approaches service in our community—welcoming people as whole individuals and valuing their unique gifts and varying intersectional variables.”

The on-site training conducted by the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at PS 153 will begin in late October.