By Jeanna Baxter White
Jon Baldwin’s 15-year relationship with Brookstone Schools in Charlotte, NC, has come full circle. A former student turned school counselor, he is passionate about giving back to the school that gave him so much.
“There is a lot about this position that makes it beautiful,” said Baldwin, who joined the staff as the social-emotional learning teacher in the fall of 2021. “Working at Brookstone has given me an amazing opportunity to serve the community that I grew up in and shaped me. The school is allowing me to do meaningful, fulfilling work. It’s one thing to work a job but a whole other thing to have the chance to pour into the lives of children.”
“Over the years, I’ve seen students go from being small to now in middle school. Some of the students I taught after school are now counselors at the summer camp. Being able to impact these students, be a part of their story, and watch them grow and develop is an incredible thing.”
For Baldwin, Brookstone Schools is a family affair. His mother, Michelle Baldwin, has served as director of School Culture and Pathways since 2016, and his three siblings, Michael, Daniel, and Destiny, each attended the school. In addition, his brother Michael has worked with the afterschool program, and his brother Daniel just finished the summer as a camp counselor. So Brookstone Schools has been a constant in their lives, and they have had a front-row seat to watch it prosper and grow.
Providing Quality Education for Over Twenty Years
Opening its doors in 2001, Brookstone Schools is a non-denominational Christian school incorporating a biblical worldview into quality education for under-resourced families in Charlotte. Its students are equipped academically, socially, and spiritually for future lives of leadership and service.
The Mebane Foundation has supported Brookstone since 2012 when it awarded the school a three-year grant to launch the Straight to the Top summer literacy camp. Since then, the Foundation has invested more than half a million dollars in this inspiring program. This year, the Foundation provided a grant of $130,000 to support the summer reading program, subsidize academic year learning interventions, replenish supplies, and fund diagnostic testing for reading difficulties by a licensed clinical psychologist.
“Brookstone Schools has been a superstar in our portfolio of grantees ever since I met Suzanne (Wilson, director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving) back in 2012,” said Mebane Foundation President Larry Colbourne. “They continue to lead by example. Families and children who have benefited from their holistic approach to education have been extremely fortunate. Brookstone is never satisfied and is always looking for new ways to support their families and to improve.“
More Than Academics
In 2020, the school adopted a trauma-informed teaching approach that factors in how trauma impacts learning and behavior. Central to this approach is understanding that Adverse Childhood and Community Experiences (ACES) can occur in the household, community, or the environment and cause toxic stress. Left unaddressed, toxic stress from ACES harms children and families, organizations, and communities and reduces a child’s ability to respond to stressful events with resiliency.
Teachers took ACES training to help them better identify the signs of distress in children and to equip them with strategies to address those needs in the classroom.
In addition, a $100k gift from a couple who have been faithful supporters of Brookstone and who saw the important need for counseling allowed the school to begin providing trauma therapy and counseling services through Christ-Centered Community Counseling (C4), a local urban counseling & mental health awareness practice. Services provided by C4 include social-emotional learning, crisis response team development, restorative discipline, parenting seminars, trauma-informed professional development, and referrals to social resource services.
At the time counseling services were introduced to Brookstone, Baldwin was working full-time as an intern at C4 while completing Pfeiffer University’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. Having worked at Brookstone as a volunteer, camp counselor, office temp, after-school worker, and substitute teacher, he was thrilled to return as the social-emotional learning teacher.
“The coolest thing about being around for a while is having so many students recognize me. I know them, and they know me; I’m not just another random adult. It’s cool to have that connection. And now, I get to see these students grow, and it’s really exciting because I can only imagine what they will come back and do.”
“Working at Brookstone is an opportunity to give back to the school and to give the students some skills and understanding I didn’t have when I was young. Brookstone didn’t have a counseling program when I was a student, so to be able to teach the students social and emotional skills is really fulfilling.”
Baldwin’s interest in counseling began in high school as other students came to him with their problems, and he discovered that he enjoyed listening and offering advice. His fascination with relationships evolved into a passion for marriage and family therapy and the positive effect it can have. He hopes to mitigate the impact of ACES by building students’ social-emotional health and teaching students self-regulation and how to develop healthy relationships with the people in their lives.
“Everyone experiences painful, stressful situations, and relationships are often where the most painful or significant ones occur. When people learn how to deal with distressing situations in caring ways, they can heal from those experiences. Hurting people hurt people, and when they don’t know how to heal or that anything is wrong in the first place, it is a lot harder for the situation to improve.”
“A trauma-informed approach allows people to recognize their feelings, teaches how to treat people with compassion and care, how to express their feelings, how to repair harm, and how to apologize in a way that also identifies why the situation was harmful so that going forward it doesn’t reoccur. Trauma is about harm, so [being] trauma-informed is about safety and how to create a safe environment that promotes health and growth instead of pain and punishment.”
During the school year, Baldwin sees each class for 30 minutes weekly to discuss topics like bullying, conflict resolution, identity, communication, feelings, and behavior. He encourages students to seek additional support if needed and offers a safe space where they can express themselves and work through their problems. Whenever possible, he works with the parents and offers them tools and support by connecting them to counseling, parent training, and organizations that can help with rent, utilities, and food if needed. In addition, he assists parents as they navigate challenging situations with their children.
In the summer, he is actively involved in Brookstone’s Learning and Adventure Camp: six weeks of fun, games, learning, field trips, and continued educational support for rising kindergarteners through rising 8th graders to help prevent summer learning loss.
He teaches weekly lessons to campers about safety, caring, the importance of rules, and bullying, all the while focusing on building relationships with the students. In addition, he helps with behavioral issues, talking to students after behavioral occurrences and helping them work on regulating emotions or learning coping skills. “I make sure students and camp counselors know I am available if they need someone to talk to. I work with counselors, teachers, and administrators for crisis issues to determine the best steps forward to ensure that students are cared for.”
“My hope is to help build stronger students, stronger families, and a school system which supports that so we can have a healthier community and world.”
About Brookstone Schools
Brookstone Schools is a non-profit Christ-centered school serving urban children and families since 2001. Brookstone offers an opportunity for parents who want to choose how to educate their children but cannot afford private education. Students learn not only facts but how to use this knowledge for future lives of leadership and service. Brookstone is located in Uptown Charlotte (301 South Davidson St., Charlotte, N.C. 28202). All gifts made to Brookstone Schools are tax-deductible. For more information, please visit www.brookstoneschools.org. or contact Suzanne Wilson, director of major gifts, at (704) 392-6330 or Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org.