Hannah Van Sickle | Berkshire Edge
Great Barrington -- If we are what we eat, then the 29 young people I met on Thursday morning at the First Congregational Church are Smarties (you know those pastel colored sweet-tart candies in the clear cellophane wrapper?) With morning circle hinging on the sweet treats, Gwendolyn VanSant’s audience was not surprisingly calm and attentive: “If the world were a village of 100 people, did you know there would be 61 Asians? Ten Europeans? Thirteen people from North and South America? One person from Oceania? And 14 Africans?” she shared with the group, most of whom were relaxing on blankets or reclining on yoga mats scattered about the space. The seemingly simple exercise—one that hinges on math and teamwork—paints an effective picture of the world in miniature form, one that children are readily able to consume—literally. The exercise is also part of the 2019 BRIDGE Happiness Toolbox/Real Talk program, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a community open house Friday, Aug. 16.
“At the end of circle, you can eat your Smarties, but you can’t eat them yet!” was the instruction from VanSant, who, in her role as CEO and co-founding director of Multicultural BRIDGE, is at the helm of the evidence-based program steeped in positive education designed to engage diverse students to support their success and cultivate their resilience in school, family and community. The core curriculum, developed by Gwendolyn VanSant and JV VanSant, explores positive psychology, diversity, mindfulness and the importance of play. “What we try to accomplish is building the kids’ capacity to understand diversity . . . all in the light of learning how to navigate it, understand their own scenarios, and be good bystanders and friends in the community,” said VanSant in a recent phone interview. The seeds for this program, planted during VanSant’s Capstone project, have blossomed into a curriculum overhaul, one that revolves around an infusion of positive psychology.