“It is always more comfortable for a child to come into an atmosphere that feels like home,” says Dana Heimbach, administrative assistant in the middle school. "Whether you are a student or a teacher, it doesn’t matter. You feel safe, respected, inspired—because it is like being with your family. We asked the students what kind of school they wanted—the Charter is an expression of their answers."

As Perkiomen’s middle school implements this social and emotional learning program within the school day and—for boarding students—within the 360 degree on-campus experience, it is important to note that modeling this behavior begins at home. “We are here to be a partner in parenting,” says Davda. "The school, the student, and the parents create a triangle of support. When parents actively work with the school, our two sides of the triangle are strongest and the student can find balance on each side. We want to encourage open lines of communication, normalize adolescent developmental behaviors, establish expectations for parents, students, and faculty, and discuss how we can use situations as educational opportunities, if we have knowledge of them."

Perkiomen has worked to connect to families. For example, the school hosted a viewing and discussion of the documentary Bully. Middle school families were invited to campus with the goal of prioritizing social and emotional learning and reinforcing the idea that adults at school and home need to work together to model self-awareness, empathy, the ability to manage conflicts, and the skills to stand up for themselves and others effectively. The first step was for the group to define what “bullying” is in the state of Pennsylvania. Bullying is a word that is commonly used, but not always accurately, by both students and parents. Then the group discussed language, timing, and emotions that require attention.

Following the initial discussion, parents and faculty watched the movie together, and then reconnected to discuss how the movie scenarios compare with what typically occurs in students’ lives. “Typically negative social interactions are termed ‘bullying’ as a byproduct of not having a foundation of social and emotional awareness,” says Davda. “We want to have strategies in place to help students understand perspectives and control emotions.”

The team that created Bully developed an educator’s toolkit after examining the most effective prevention strategies.5 The outcome of that work was for faculty and families to make a commitment to building trusted relationships within a school, teaching empathy and ensuring that all students, even in a large school, have one adult they are connected to and can trust when they have a problem. Exploring social and emotional learning builds student leadership, embraces new types of discipline, and creates public accountability around these issues.

With proper behavioral definitions, language, and timing, faculty and families can intervene when attention is needed. As seen recently in the local media, too often school administration does not hear about incidents or interactions until they have reached a tipping point and students make poor decisions.

“My educational philosophy is rooted in dynamically adjusting to context and research,” says Davda.
"Perkiomen is proactive, stepping forward as an evolving leader in the education sector. It’s this ethos that brought me here. I see it as our professional responsibility to integrate known research throughout the middle school curriculum. Therefore, when studies show that this type of systematic process is the common element leading to an increase in academic success, improved quality of relationships between teachers and students, and a decrease in problematic behaviors, it becomes our expectation to provide our students with those skills that facilitate risking becoming their best."

Davda intends to continue and grow the program, adding in an additional anchor tool each school year and revisiting the Charter exercise as a new group enters the middle school each September. 



  1. Carl E. Pickhardt, “Social Challenges of Middle School: Why Middle School Can Be So Psychologically Demanding,” Psychology Today (January 2017); online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201701/social-challenges-middle-school.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; online at http://ei.yale.edu/.
  4. Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (New York: Bantam, 1995).
  5. For more information about the Bully DVD and Educator Toolkit, visit https://www.niot.org/nios/contest/bully.