A young girl walked into Molly Carroll's classroom, crying after recess. Carroll was getting ready to give a math test and found herself in a quandary. "Do I deal with the emotional needs of this child or the academic needs of the whole room?" said Carroll. "I saw a gap in our education system. How do we address kids' emotional needs?"
This event prompted Carroll to go back to school and get her master's degree in counseling psychology and start an after-school program in San Francisco called Girl Space—using art, yoga, cooking, meditation and volunteer projects to help girls ages 6 to 12 develop emotional intelligence. Carroll said it, "allowed girls to have a space where they could talk about their emotions, and every part of them was welcome. I saw girls go out into the world with more confidence and compassion." Girl Space started with 13 kids and grew to over 200, including a summer camp. Then Carroll moved to Bend.
In her new home, Carroll recognized the program needed to include boys, so Girl Space became Flourish. Like the San Francisco program, Carroll ran Flourish as an after-school program and camp—but instead of teaching during the day she started her own private therapy practice and authored two books, "Cracking Open" and "Trust Within."
In March, Carroll let go of her private practice. "I followed my intuition," said Carroll, "I woke up one morning and the first question I heard was, why is Flourish only available to the privileged few? It should be available to every child."
After running Flourish in Bend for seven years, Carroll turned Flourish into a teacher-led, K-8 social and emotional learning curriculum. Social-emotional learning, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, is "the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions."
"We are in a societal crisis: children are struggling with more anxiety, depression and suicide ideation than we have seen in history." —Molly Carroll
With the Flourish curriculum, Carroll highlights concepts such as how to deal with conflict, how to build empathy and how to be in a healthy relationship with yourself and others. Technology is not part of the program. Carroll found many studies showing that technology may negatively impact a student's social-emotional health, so she doesn't include videos or pre-made materials. Instead, students use art and person-to-person communication. Carroll is excited to implement the Flourish curriculum at the private Seven Peaks School this fall. She's also working with other public and private schools in Central Oregon and across the United States.
Carroll knows Flourish works, having seen students including Eliza Hearst find tremendous growth in the program.
"As a young girl, Flourish was my sanctuary after school," Hearst said. "I loved having a place that felt safe and welcoming and where I could be completely myself. Given how much pressure there can be to excel academically, having a place where we could focus on our emotions and learn about who we were, was enormously helpful and needed. Without the freedom to express myself and truly be heard, I can say with certainty that I would not be as confident and comfortable with myself as I am now."
Carroll is on a mission to get the Flourish program into more schools.
"We are in a societal crisis," said Carroll, "children are struggling with more anxiety, depression and suicide ideation than we have seen in history. It is time to bring children back to their roots of human connection through creativity, kindness, laughter, wellness tools and learning more about their emotional intelligence and how it can help them with lifelong success both professionally and personally."