Difference Makers: Anne-Marie Desmond and Emily McCormack
The Story: UB.U
Written by: Amy Baker, Education Manager
It all began about eight years ago, a local elementary school reached out to Anne-Marie Desmond and Emily McCormack and asked if they would help with their Wondrous Wednesday programming and bring yoga to the K-5 student community. After a year with students, they were blown away! Feedback showed that kids as young as 6 and 7 were struggling with stress and anxiety and begging for more time to relax and have an intentional pause in their day. The culture of go-go-go that is so pervasive with adults is also affecting our kids. With the encouragement of Tiffany Dougherty, principal at Eagle Valley Elementary, they set out to design a K-12 curriculum that not only taught students about their nervous system and stress response system but also provided lifelong tools for settling the mind, calming the body, and opening the heart. This was the birth of the first Social-Emotional Curriculum that was brought to Eagle County Schools. Students, teachers, and parents began to learn how to explore the mind and educate the heart through the UB.U programming.
A quick straw poll done in the schools indicated that teachers knew little at that time about Social Emotional Learning (SEL). UB.U saw this as a gap in education and committed to creating a radical paradigm shift in our schools, addressing the emerging need for social and emotional wellness and brain health education. Carving out SEL time during the school day was the missing link for building emotional intelligence. The staff at UB.U saw that we were not educating and nourishing our children's social and emotional lives. Because of that, they were moving into their academic and post-graduate careers – and later into their adult lives – without the necessary tools for self-awareness, resilience, and overall mental and emotional wellbeing. At a time when children and teens are experiencing increased trauma due to the impact of world events, as well as incidents that hit closer to home – like school shootings, racism, sexism, and discrimination - more students than ever are being hospitalized for stress and anxiety. With screen time on the rise (averaging nine hours a day), increased feelings of loneliness & social isolation, and a suicide/suicide ideation rate that has nearly doubled from previous years, the need for earlier and more effective prevention-focused mental health care for children and teens had never been more critical. Anne-Marie and Emily saw this first-hand with their children and knew they had to do something. They believed the first step in addressing these behavioral health issues was with prevention programming that proactively educates and empowers the individual. Practicing tools rooted in mindfulness strengthens self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-compassion, creating more possibilities. They believe it is intentional to pause, that children (and adults, for that matter) can find opportunities. Their classes involved
optimum brain function,
mind-body connection and awareness,
responding versus reacting and parasympathetic nervous system regulation tools.
UB.U was the foundation for so many teachers and classrooms to learn, practice safely, and share their stories about how to integrate SEL into the classroom. They feel fortunate to have worked to help establish a wonderful prevention provider group, B.E. Partners. This group thoughtfully supports Eagle County K-12 youth with the creation and implementation of equitable SEL programs that align with state and national academic health standards and developmental student needs. During UB.U's extraordinary eight-year tour, they reached nearly 8,000 students in almost every public, private, and charter school in the Eagle River Valley. During a 2017-2018 impact study, they saw an average of 54% increase in student overall wellbeing. They are proud that UB.U students can confidently 'check-in' with themselves and use self-regulation tools to assist in their overall wellbeing. UB.U teachers often run into former students out in the valley and report back that their conversations are around skills, tools, and lessons on SEL. These exchanges are a source of great honor to the UB.U team, as it reinforces the impact they have had on the youth in our community and the skills they helped them to develop that will last a lifetime.
UB.U wants to acknowledge and thank the B.E. Partners, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, Eagle County, so many principals, teachers, counselors, parents, and students that have lifted them up and kept UB.U going. UB.U is humbled by their support, partnership, and encouragement.
When I think of UB.U and the impact it has had on my children and so many others, the Margaret Mead quote comes to mind: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." This is what UB.U was for our community, a catalyst for change that was born of the passion and vision of women who identified a need and catapulted into action. Our valley will treasure the benefits of their teachings for many years to come.