KEESEVILLE — A program aimed at empowering young students is making an impact at Keeseville Elementary School.

The Circle program, organized by Sweethearts & Heroes, builds empathy among students by listening and communicating to their peers in a circle.

“We are excited to partner with Sweethearts & Heroes this year. They have been so supportive throughout our time working with them,” Mike Francia, Keeseville Elementary Principal, said.

“Last year, when we were fully remote, they tailored the program to connect our students while they were not in person at school. The social and emotional well-being of our students is one of our top priorities here at Keeseville Elementary.”


The Sweethearts & Heroes Circle program, helps activate many social-emotional skills in the students, Tom Murphy, director and co-founder of Sweethearts & Heroes, said.

The program was featured at the school Wednesday and will be again on Jan. 19.

“Circle is about building a support network for students in all grades, so that when they are struggling with social and emotional obstacles, they will have the resources necessary to manage those struggles. If you commit to Circle on a regular basis, an entire culture can change. We’ve seen it happen thousands of times,” Murphy said.

“You have to be committed to teaching that social-emotional growth. Empathy is like a muscle in the brain, if you exercise it, it grows, otherwise it atrophies and falls away.”


The development of these social skills in children was disrupted by the pandemic, when learning moved online, Murphy said.

“One teacher told me that we may not understand all of the developmental implications from the pandemic until our kindergarteners graduate,” Murphy said.

“A lot of kids have reported a real sense of loneliness and feeling of isolation. All of us, as humans, need a real sense of purpose and meaning, whether that is sports, music, or a job, and too many of these students had that canceled. There’s some big stuff that we won’t know the impact of for years to come.”


Pat Fish, chief presenter for Sweethearts & Heroes in Keeseville, said the Circle program has increased the connection between students and teachers.

“You’re seeing teachers learn things about their students that they may not have necessarily known beforehand, and students are also learning about their teachers,” Fish said.

“The best way to teach kids is to show them, and the teachers have practiced vulnerability in these circles as well. When you have a teacher who talks about past life experiences and things that they may have done differently, it’s a great lesson for these kids to learn.”


Building those skills has been the main priority of the Sweethearts & Heroes program since the pandemic hit, Fish said.

“The biggest thing when schools came back, was what did students lose the most of when they were home and away from each other?” Fish said.

“If you talk to any teacher around the country, they’d say the most important thing to work on is the student’s social emotional health. These kids have gone through a ton, now we need to help them bounce back and work through some of these difficulties. We feel we are in a great position to help them.”

Email Carly Newton:

Twitter: CarlySNewton

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