From high school to the stars…and beyond

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Whether you are an astronaut or an accountant, interpersonal skills are crucial to success. NASA has its mental health guidelines, and local schools try various approaches to fostering good mental health and interpersonal skills.

Next fall, Columbia Heights High School is launching a ninth grade leadership academy. The course will teach writing skill development but also draw on material on emotional intelligence, Arthur Costa’s Habits of Mind and Sean Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

At a time when a school success is judged by math and reading scores, this required class is not focused on the traditional content areas. Principal Andrew Beaton said the school would still focus on academics.

Mental health for astronauts
No kid escapes the insufferable question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many respond: “astronaut.”

For youngsters new to the dream of space flight, it takes a lot more than technical and academic training. It takes a high level of social and emotional skills. Some schools are being more intentional about including leadership and self-awareness skills in curriculum and student supports. Here is a fun if perhaps extreme real-world application of why it matters.

The folks at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have a manual with the cold and formal title: “International Space Station Human Behavior & Competency Model Volume 1.” The document defines many of the skills that astronauts need to have before they get to participate “in international long duration missions.”

The manual is dry as dust, no literary merit whatsoever. But if you’re going to sit in the blast-off chair, here are the three “behavior markers” NASA lists under stress management. As a qualified astronaut, you will be able to:
• Identify symptoms and causes of personal stress
• Take action to prevent and mitigate stress, negative mood or low morale
• Use calm and flexible approach in dealing with unfamiliar situations.

Sounds a lot like the skills that are needed in school and life.

Are you ready to fly? For the full details on your social/emotional check list, click here.

“But as a school and a district, we are not going to be defined by a test score,” he said. “It [testing] is something that we have to do. We think it is important. We also value the arts, family and community involvement, service and leadership. All of those things go together when we look at how we will develop kids to be good people, good citizens, good leaders.”


English teacher Paul Sackaroff has been testing the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens in one ninth-grade class this year. (The habits include such things as: Be proactive, Begin with the end in mind, and Think win-win.) Students are not learning English in the Shakespearean sense, but they are learning about the human condition, he said. They are learning life skills: how to interact, how to treat each other, get along in groups and keep their word.

Principal Beaton said secondary schools sometimes don’t pay enough attention to the whole child. They do it in elementary school, naturally, he said. They look at the academics, but also social development. “Really, it shouldn’t end in secondary [school],” he said. “It is something that adolescents need.”

How are the kids?
Kids are multi-dimensional. They grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. For public schools, it’s ix-nay on the religious stuff, best to focus on body and mind, physical education and academics. But what about student’s emotional growth? If kids are depressed, traumatized, anxious or acting out, they cannot learn. Stories in this series illustrate efforts to address such educational barriers:

Minneapolis schools partner with community agencies to help traumatized kids

St. Paul special education classes, students work to stay in “power mode”

Baby’s Space takes a big step forward in Minneapolis

From high school to the stars … and beyond


Scott Russell is a journalist. He wrote for the Southwest Journal and Skyway News (now the Downtown Journal) in Minneapolis from 1999-2005. He also wrote for The Capital Times, a Madison Wisconsin daily, from 1993-1999.

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