Between the jigs, hops, points, switches, clicks and batters at an Irish dance class, a partnership was born.

Some of the students and teachers in Finger Lakes member districts hope to be dancing with joy if this marriage between the area districts and resiliency training from the Courageous Hearts group works out.

Courageous Hearts is a team of educators integrating social-emotional learning skills to school-aged children. Dr. Heather Daly, founder of Courageous Hearts, is originally from Rochester but started the program in Los Angeles.

It is now a part of the FLASHP nation, thanks in part to conversations at an Irish dance class between Daly’s mother, Gladys, and Patti Zimmer, assistant director of human resources at Finger Lakes Community College.

“My mom is 84 and works out every day,” Daly says. “She put me in touch with Patti. We started talking, and there was significant overlap in what we were doing.”

“When I met with Heather, she told me about how her company worked with educators to work on their social and emotional well-being, which in turn makes them better instructors and can model that behavior for students,” Zimmer says.

A program was held earlier in the year with officials from consortium members attending.

Some of the key elements for the resiliency program are under the umbrellas of five areas: self awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management and relationship skills.

“During this time, it’s a relative and meaningful topic,” Livonia Central School District Superintendent Matt Cole says. “It’s something we all can benefit from and be reflective about. Resiliency is something we all had to face during these challenges with the global pandemic, economic uncertainty and some of the social conversations that are also happening. There is quite a bit on everybody’s plates.”

Zimmer says her district was touching on similar areas at the community college, and that the principles from Courageous Hearts can also be used for teachers and students from kindergarten through senior year in high school.

“We already offer mindful meditation and yoga and things like that,” Zimmer says. “To me, when Heather started talking about her program, I felt it was like another natural extension of the programs that were already offered.

“In mindful meditation, you are training your brain and your body to react better to stressful situations and life in general. You are training yourself to be calm. Heather’s program is the same idea but even more practical for the people who think maybe mindful meditation isn’t for them. This still talks about your social and emotional well-being. You can model that for your students.”

Further workshops were put on hold during the early stages of the pandemic, but officials said they hoped they can continue progressing in the summer.

Daly started to get the itch to helping students cope with difficult decisions after working in the corporate world and not getting enjoyment out of it.

“It became hard for me and it became clear I was not living a life that was lined with my soul’s purpose,” she says. “I felt my soul was shriveling up and dying in the corporate world.

“I took a huge risk when I left and did a huge career revamp. I started doing work that I loved with spiritual psychology. I was working with young people and facilitating and connecting with their own inner wisdom and supporting them with their own emotional and mental health. I knew when I started doing that, I had found my calling.”

Daly enjoyed her one-on-one interactions with students. She is now a few levels above that, but passing her knowledge to administrators, who pass it to teachers who pass it to students, allows for more students to be reached.

Cole says he learned a few valuable lessons in his first meeting with the Courageous Hearts reps.

“What stood out for me in the workshop was that life has its ebbs and its flows and that’s OK,” Cole says. “It’s situational in that we move in our energy levels. There will be moments through all of this that will test our resiliency. We have our mission and purpose that things are in alignment. But there will be times when things don’t feel that way.

“There are those moments of uncertainty, but it’s important to know that those moments exist and not to be harsh on yourself. You can take the time and re-center and focus and get back on track.”

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