The Bijou School Principal Highlighted by Local Non-Profit

Posted by PATRICIA CLIKEMAN on 2/17/2023 3:00:00 PM

The Bijou School and it's amazing Principal Mary-Catherine Ruben-Clapper was recently highlighted by The Mindfulness and Positivity Project (MPP).

Mindfulness and Positivity in Action

Meet Dr. MC
Principal at The Bijou School in District 11

As a child, intently instructing the dolls and stuffed animals neatly lined up in a row on the floor of her bedroom, Mary-Catherine Ruben-Clapper always knew she wanted to be a teacher.  Now, for the last 35 years, Dr. MC has been practicing the art and science of education, thinking and acting outside of the box, and making a distinctive difference in the lives of students who might otherwise never graduate high school.

MPP Co-Founder, Meg Fredrick, with Dr. MC
A powerful dragon protecting her jewels.....

Principal at The Bijou School, an alternative high school in District 11, Dr. MC wrote her doctoral dissertation on how periods of transition in one's life (high school graduation) can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors which ultimately prevent students from graduating.  Addressing students’ thoughts and feelings related to this transition (anxiety, a sense of lost control, or judgment of self-worth) and reappraising how they can succeed, is all part of the work she does on a daily basis.  

Students at The Bijou School face one or more risks factors for becoming lost in the educational system:  learning disabilities, homelessness, foster care, domestic violence, trauma, mental health issues, pregnancy or parenthood, having an incarcerated parent, or involvement with gangs, drugs or alcohol, are some of those factors.  “The students are comfortable in a crisis” but not comfortable with routine tasks such as completing assignments.  Out of 130 students surveyed at the beginning the 2021 school year, not a single student reported having hope for their future.  “If kids don’t see a future, why bother finishing?”

Dr. MC and her fellow teachers all strive to give students an education that serves as a foundation for the rest of their lives, empowering them, giving them hope for their futures, interrupting the cycle of poverty and addiction.  Bijou staff proudly sport “Hope Dealer” hats on Fridays and talk to teens about what they can control in their lives, emphasizing, “Your past does not have to be your future.”  Teachers are constantly thinking outside of the box, getting creative to help students keep up academically while allowing flexibility for life’s uncertainties.  Students may need to drop out for a quarter to find a job and secure housing, or maybe to give birth, and they are welcomed back at any time to finish their degree.

With a background in developmental psychology, Dr. MC knows the importance of mindfulness and positive psychology and tries to lead the way with her staff and students.  Post-pandemic return to work for many teachers came with a lot of fear.  Fear of becoming ill from COVID-19 and fear of expectations from the district.  Schools are evaluated on attendance and growth.  This is a daunting task when 75% of students had two or more risk factors for dropping out even before the pandemic.  That’s when she called The Mindfulness and Positivity Project - she knew she had to address the teachers’ concerns and fears.  MPP weekly coaching programs have helped Bijou educators and students learn and practice regulating their own emotions and reactions.  Teachers, counselors, the dean, and the principal, herself, all take time to calm themselves when dealing with disruptive students.  “So many students have never seen that (regulation of emotion) modeled.”  When teachers can set the tone and manage their own emotions, it helps immensely.  “Students have enough obstacles.  Teachers cannot be an obstacle; they are trying to remove obstacles, not create them.”

Teachers commonly lead students through mindfulness practices, and then students take turns leading a practice.  This is especially important for the Restorative Justice Circle, when students come together and learn to repair harm to relationships after an incident.  When students break rules or act out, Dr. MC seeks restorative action, not punitive.  “They need counseling, not more punishment.”  An education at The Bijou School includes learning conflict resolution and social skills, persistence, grit, regulation of emotion, mindfulness.  “Our kids do not know how to sit and attend, they don’t know how to be quiet, settled…we have to show there is a way to be quiet.”  

A perfect example of teaching students how to regulate emotions and behaviors is Bijou’s “Red Cool Down Pass” that may be used when a student recognizes they might “lose it.”  The student may take the pass to leave class and go to the dean’s or the principal’s office.  Once there, they may use the “Yellow Ready to Talk” pass to speak with a counselor, the dean, or principal, or they may use the “Green Ready to Go Back to Class” pass to return to class and catch up on missed work.  Acquiring this simple strategy of recognizing when emotional pressure is building and being able to step away from a potential conflict in order to cool down is essential for success in life for everyone.  

The Bijou School and its mascot, a dragon presenting a jewel, aptly symbolize how Dr. MC and her staff value their students, their education, and their potential.   “Bijou'' is French for “gem” and the dragon is a powerful guardian, protecting each precious gem of a student as they discover the possibilities that await them in their lives.  The Mindfulness and Positivity Project is proud to partner with The Bijou School, we are inspired by their dedication to the profession of teaching, and we admire the great work they do in our community.

The Mindfulness and Positivity Project is a non-profit organization devoted to empowering organizations of all kinds with the tools needed to foster a truly mindful and positive culture.