What an Independent High School can do for your child
Pop quiz: What does the student support team, self-advocacy, and a cup of tea have in common?
If you said Mollie Mowat, our assistant head of school for student affairs, you’re right!
As head of our student support team, Mollie is an integral part of helping students thrive at Orinda Academy. Her blend of mediation, advocacy, and mindfulness ensures that students can achieve academically, socially, and emotionally. With Mollie’s help, students can grow into adulthood with an empowered emotional toolkit, ready to face life’s challenges.
Let’s take a closer look at how Mollie works with OA students.
Student Support Team: Ensuring the success of every student
Mollie leads the team to help students who might otherwise fall through the cracks at a larger school. Partnering with counselors, the learning specialist, and director of academics they wrap their support around the student to provide them with the tools they need to be successful.
At her weekly team meetings, you might hear Mollie and her team discussing:
- referrals from teachers about students who are struggling academically, emotionally, or socially.
- ways to support each student’s unique needs.
- which expert team member to assign to a student that best addresses their needs.
- updates on the progress of students that team members are working with.
Mollie remembers one particular student whose struggles might have been overwhelming at a different high school. “Alice*had a pretty rocky start to the school year, so we developed a plan for her. We pulled her parents and Sue [the school head] and the teachers in, and everybody became part of her team.”
Mollie and her team worked with Alice to:
- change her class schedule.
- meet weekly with counselors.
- meet weekly with the learning specialist.
- get involved in a club to pursue her interests and integrate with other students.
“It took a while,” Mollie explains, “but her grades came up, and the anxiety about her situation lowered. This is exactly what we wanted. With a plan in place, it worked.”
That’s the OA difference—the willingness to work with a student’s needs, the resources to help the student learn and improve, and the time and space necessary to make the change.
“We lead with our hearts,” Mollie says. “We look at each student and truly put them first.”
Self-advocacy: empowering students
Mollie recognizes that advocacy is an important life skill that students must learn for themselves. “Our goal,” Mollie says, “is to teach them how to self-advocate, to support them in the process and then eventually let them fly with it.”
When a student needs to address an issue they’re struggling within the classroom, whether with teachers or other students, Mollie aims to teach that student to help themselves.
Mollie works with the student to:
- make a plan.
- consider compromises.
- speak up for themselves.
With their plan in place, Mollie stays close by to lend her support, walking with the student to the classroom and standing with them as they advocate for themselves. And not just once—she’ll do the same thing as many times as the student needs.
“That might happen three times until eventually, the magic happens, and when I say ‘Hey, do you need me?’ they’ll say, ‘Nope. I’m doing it on my own.’”
A cup of tea: using mindfulness to ease anxiety
In a world where virtual relationships often trump real life, some students struggle to be present and contribute positively to the classroom dynamic. Enter Mollie who is trained in Mindful Education through both Mindful Schools and the Karme Choling Retreat Center.
Through class visits and a mindfulness class, Mollie teaches students:
- basic meditation techniques.
- how to “check in” with their behavior.
- to identify how their actions affect the classroom dynamic.
But what about the tea?
“Tea is also mindfulness,” Mollie explains. “I’m always offering tea.”
When Mollie began at OA, she noticed a lot of anxiety around finals. “I’d say, come and sit with me. We can just breathe and then have a cup of tea. At first only one student would show up. But now when kids are stressed out about finals or relationships or a class that they have to go into, they’ll come to my office and say, ‘Can we have a cup of tea?’ It just settles them to go and carry on.”
At the end of the day, Mollie wants each student at OA to find happiness and success. “We’re the advocates for the kids,” Mollie says. “My team is just amazing with that. We ask, ‘What can we do to help? What is going to work?’ And we’ll keep going at it and going at it until we get success. Everybody cares deeply about the kids on this team.”
If you’re looking for a more personalized approach for your student, contact our admissions office to find out if Orinda Academy might be the answer for a great independent high school in the bay area you’ve been looking for.
*For privacy, the student’s name has been changed