It was nearly 20 years ago that Colorado Native Callan Clark became a school psychologist and began to fall in love with the idea of social-emotional education – focusing on the whole child and working to meet the needs of every student – not just those who were struggling on the surface.
It’s this same attentiveness to student success that has led Callan to become the executive director of student services in Englewood Schools, a small district in the Denver metro area. “I wanted to make a difference for more than just school-wide,” she explains.
And make a difference she has. In a working class community with over 70% free and reduced lunch, Callan has made it her personal mission to bring social-emotional learning and resilience education to the forefront at Englewood Schools. “There’s not always a sense that there is innate resilience in our students, so be it the teachers’ belief, the parents’ belief, or their own belief, a lot of times our students are not looked at as resilient individuals. I want to change that,” she says.
Callan works for this change in a number of ways, from bringing the WhyTry Program to her district to riding the bus with students who require aid when another staff member has to take time off. Callan’s secretary Laura Hrunek has observed Callan’s ability to foster resilience in students on multiple occasions. “I have watched her play games with students and incorporate learning while teaching a new teacher how to encompass different age levels. Callan has met with parents at their work place during their break to help them facilitate their child’s needs,” she says.
Deputy Superintendent Patty Hanrahan agrees. “Callan eliminates barriers and tough exteriors so kids can focus on who they really are to get over their obstacles instead of using them in ways that don’t help them.” One way she’s done this, explains Patty, is by adding deferred suspension so kids with drug or possession charges can get assistance rather than getting kicked out of school. The supports Callan has put in place help these students make better and healthier choices and be successful in school.
But Callan doesn’t just foster resilience in youth – she exhibits it herself in many ways, and her colleagues are paying attention to that as well. “[Callan] is resilient in the way that she always comes up with an idea or plan to try to meet the needs of students. She does not believe in barriers, but will build a bridge to get over any barrier and in doing that she displays and teaches resiliency to us all,” says Laura. Patty adds, “She has such a heart for all kids and she’s always looking for ways to support them. She’s very empathetic and sympathetic toward the kids and their issues.”
According to Callan, that empathy and sense of resilience is born from her own life struggles, including a constant battle with anxiety. “Learning to deal with that in today’s day and age has been very educational, but learning to be in a profession where you’re supporting people with mental health issues and suffering from them yourself shows you that you can be resilient and bounce back from it, and help other people as well. Learning that I could live with it and bounce back from panic attacks and anxiety issues was what helped me tap into that.”
Callan is a strong believer that in order to help a child be resilient, the adults in that child’s life must have the skills of resilience as well. “We always focus so much on students instead of adult actions. Instead of saying, ‘I know you can bounce back from this’ and ‘You can do this,’ I think the adult role is really important and gets overlooked a lot… I think there needs to be a movement where we charge our adults with this charge to be resilient as much as we do with our students.”