Branch Out! in the News

Washington State Attorney General Recognizes Branch Out!

Press Release January 11, 2005
Press Release December 9, 2003
Bellingham Herald Article, December 6, 2003
 

Press Release, January 11, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Contact:
Molly J. Foote, M.Ed., NCC
(360) 647-5120
www.cultivatingconnections.com

Branch Out!® receives Learning® Magazine’s 2005 Teacher’s Choice Award, one of the most coveted awards in the educational market.

Bellingham, WA - January 11, 2005 - Bellingham-based Cultivating Connections recently received Learning Magazine?s prestigious 2005 Teachers? Choice Award for the Branch Out! educational game and curriculum. Cultivating Connections is a nationally recognized, heart-driven business that specializes in developing fun, hands-on, interactive activities to assist educators in creating safe and effective learning environments for their students.

Since first introduced in 1994, the widely acclaimed Teachers' Choice Award has heralded the very best in classroom-tested, teacher-recommended products. This year, 40 teacher teams throughout the United States evaluated more than 430 submissions for quality, instructional value, ease of use, and innovation, selecting 67 products to receive the 2005 award. ?We are very excited about receiving Learning Magazine?s 2005 Teachers? Choice Award from such an esteemed group of professionals and are honored to be in the company of such distinguished organizations as Scholastic, Inc., Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Disney Educational Productions, and many others,? remarked Molly J. Foote, M.Ed., Branch Out! creator and founder of Cultivating Connections.

Learning Magazine teacher evaluators of Branch Out! commented:
  • I would recommend this product to any teacher, at any grade level because there is a definite need for students to accept themselves as well as others.
  • It can really be used in any classroom setting in conjunction with any subject, to benefit every student.
  • It helped everyone with their language/speech skills. The students loved using the manipulatives and found the game very fun and non-threatening.
  • Some students who do not like to share in the classroom were much more open and were able to share with the hands-on game.
For more reviewer comments, please visit the Cultivating Connections website at http://www.cultivatingconnections.com/teachers_evaluation_comments.html.
While working as a school counselor, Foote developed the Branch Out! game and curriculum to engage students, create community in the classroom, assist students in reaching their potential, and address the spectrum of learning styles. ?When common experiences, beliefs, and feelings are discovered, interpersonal barriers decrease,? Foote explained. ?Branch Out! provides an interactive environment to help students develop feelings of affinity with their teachers and peers, thereby transforming the school or youth group into a comfortable, accepting place.?

Classrooms worldwide share the common goals of reducing stress, teaching assertive communication skills, and preventing aggressive interpersonal outbursts. Branch Out! is used by curriculum directors, teachers, and counselors in the U.S. and Japan to help build social organization and create a normative climate in K-12 schools and youth organizations. In addition, Branch Out! provides an effective strategy for facilitating diversity appreciation, community building, and the development of positive social skills among children of all economic and social backgrounds.

For more information about the Teacher's Choice Awards, visit www.learningmagazine.com.

For more information about Cultivating Connections and the Branch Out! game and curriculum, please visit www.CultivatingConnections.com or call Molly J. Foote at 360-647-5120.

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Press Release, December 9, 2003

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Molly J. Foote, M.Ed., NCC
(360) 647-5120
www.cultivatingconnections.com

Counselor Develops Game to Prevent Bullying

Bellingham, WA December 9, 2003 - Molly Foote had her hands full. The elementary school counselor was responsible for 700 students, and the average class size was 30. Her job was to help students develop and use effective social skills. However, many students needed guided practice to overcome the negative patterns that made interpersonal relationships problematic. The counselors needed a tool or strategy that engaged an entire class and helped students learn to treat one another with kindness and respect. This became a daunting task due to the diverse student needs and large number of students needing to be served.

"My job was to ensure that each child became a successful learner. While most kids already had the necessary social skills, many of them were making poor choices. They were hitting each other on the playground, calling each other names, and generally being disrespectful," Molly explains. "There was no method of engaging all these kids at the same time. Simply talking to them or doing book exercises just wasn't working."

As a result, she invented Branch Out!®. Branch Out! is an educational process designed to improve communications and understanding in classrooms and communities. Its strength and uniqueness lie in its ability to connect people of all ages and backgrounds, allowing common experiences, beliefs, and feelings to be discovered and personal barriers to decrease. Branch Out! helps people develop relationships, feel a sense of belonging in a group, and deepen their understanding of one another. This innovative group process helps develop cross-cultural competencies, reduce bullying and violent behaviors, and facilitate personal growth. Her students loved it, and by interacting through the game, they developed feelings of affinity and respect for one another.

The game has five main areas of focus: personal empowerment, career development, pro-social skills, diversity appreciation, and community building. Using a tree as a graphic symbol of human growth and development, players take turns answering prepared questions drawn from specific categories that relate to home, school, work, interests and abilities, favorites, and feelings. When questions are answered and discussed, the player, and others who relate to her/his responses, place a leaf on the tree to signify sharing and growing. As the game progresses, the tree becomes covered with leaves. Players practice skills such as listening for facts and feelings, expressing empathy, discovering new insights into self and others, and teambuilding. Questions range from "What's your favorite color" to "You're given a magical telescope that allows you to see 10 years into your future, what do you see?" Players answer questions to the level of personal disclosure and detail that is comfortable for them.

The game and curriculum is designed to help players be fully present, honest, open, and comfortable in a respectful and interesting group. The theoretical foundations of this activity are based on social-psychological themes of self-efficacy, group belonging and reinforcement, and the self-fulfilling prophecy. Helping students gain insight into themselves and others leads them committed to creating a safe and respectful environment for all. Branch Out! is about discovering the value of self, others, and the shared responsibility for creating meaningful interactions.

It was a real hit with the kids. Other counselors and administrators took notice and Branch Out! is now being used with people of all ages in over 100 organizations including K-12 schools, colleges, camps, faith communities, and corporate teams. Organizations utilizing the game are located across the United States, Canada, and in an international school in Japan. There is an English and Spanish version of the game. The Washington State Attorney General's Office has endorsed Branch Out! as a recommended resource for bully prevention and community building www.atg.wa.gov/bullying/community.shtml.

A recent report issued by Western Washington University's Department of Education concluded that Branch Out! helped marginal students change directions and recognize their connections with peers, teachers and counselors, thereby reducing incidences of disruptive classroom behavior.¹ Dr. Sue Hayes of Western Washington University states, "Branch Out! demonstrated an inclusive strategy that promoted student-to-student sharing and encouragement. In my estimation, Branch Out! is not only effective; it is unique in the field."

Melisa Cull of the Seattle Girl Scout Council reports, "It is a wonderful tool for our girls in foster care. It gave them a structured environment where they found the freedom to express themselves, build connections, and reflect on who they are and who they want to be."

Branch Out! has been used for corporate team-building and skill identification in companies in the Seattle area. "You are going to see a lot of enthusiastic adults asking you how they could take this back to the organizations they are affiliated with outside of work!" said Seattle businessman Wayne Evans after playing the game at a company function.

"At the time, I wasn't imagining anything but to help me in my job as a school counselor in creating an environment where all students can be successful," she says, though she left the school system two years ago to found the company, Cultivating Connections.

¹Hayes, Susanna, Ph.D., Foote, M.F. Culturally Responsive Approaches to School Violence Prevention. Online 2002 Readings in Psychology and Culture, Unit 15, Chapter 7. www.ac.wwu.edu/~culture/hayes_foote.htm

 

Bellingham Herald, December 6, 2003

READY TO PLAY: Former school counselor Molly Foote invented a game called Branch Out! which teaches those playing the game how to appreciate each other's individuality while connecting as part of a larger community. It was originally designed for kids but is now being used by all age groups. RACHEL E. BAYNE HERALD PHOTO


One girl who was shy and struggling threw her arms up in the air and said, "I branched out today."

Kie Relyea, The Bellingham Herald

Molly Foote's game is serious fun.

Branch Out!, an educational game inspired by her late grandmother, has found its way from classrooms into boardrooms and even across the ocean. It's based on efforts from Foote's school counseling days to convince students that hitting each other wasn't the best route.

Play time

Here's how Branch Out! Is played:

Players sit around a tree gameboard. They flick a spinner and wait for it to land on a topic: interests and abilities, feelings, home, work, school and favorites.

One person answers questions such as "What is your favorite thing about school" or "What makes you afraid or scared?"

"I wanted categories that could relate to anybody, no matter your background," says Molly Foote, the Bellingham resident and K-12 school counselor who invented the educational game.

The person who answers throws a leaf onto the tree. Others who have the answer in common put leaves on the tree as well.

"The tree becomes full the more connected we become," Foote explains.

"My grandmother had always reminded me of this tree with these low, inviting branches that you could just crawl up and feel like you could accomplish anything, you could leave feeling empowered," the 32-year-old Bellingham resident says. "So many kids don't have a grandmother (like that) or experience like that."

But Foote hopes they can learn to find their strengths to support themselves, and each other, through Branch Out!

"The whole idea was how can we help kids feel strong and sturdy like a tree so that they can move with freedom and be true to themselves, be authentic," she says.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Foote developed the game while working on her master's degree in school counseling at Western Washington University. It was 1997, and she was interning as a school counselor at Blaine primary, elementary and middle schools and trying to teach social skills to the students. Yet, they continued to strike at each other on the playground.

"You know the kids have the skills. When you interview them later, they knew right from wrong and what skills to use but they're choosing not to use them. I thought we need to go deeper," Foote recalls.

She set out to make them care.

"It's much easier to lash out against someone you don't know or never had a relationship with than it is someone you have feelings and an affinity (for). You're more invested with people that you know," Foote continues.

But she couldn't find any game or educational tool to help connect a whole classroom in an engaging way, something that helped students learn without realizing it.

So she created one that could be played with up to 35 people.

She drew it on the back of a Twister board actually - "I still have that original game" - and presented the game to classmates in her psychology of careers and vocations class.

They played it. They loved it.

"Everyone was taken with Molly's activity. I became convinced she had something that could go a lot farther," recalls professor Susanna Hayes, who was teaching that class.

"The youngsters that really get involved can't help but be reflective," Hayes says.

Foote then created a fabric gameboard and pieces. (The newest version is made of sweatshirt fleece and felt.)

She took the game to her young students. One fourth-grade girl who was shy and struggling with finding her way at a time when kids are separating into cliques "threw her arms up in the air and said, 'I branched out today.' She just felt so proud," Foote recalls.

Another time, a middle-schooler struggling with school was asked, "What are you afraid of?" He admitted it was his stepfather.

"I don't think I would have gotten there any other way," Foote says. "I'd been playing basketball and doing other things, and I never heard that."

Counselors or facilitators leading the game recognize what people are truly saying and can help draw out that information. "Some of the highest therapeutic potential of the game is that the facilitator uses the terms and the language that the person (player) contributed," Hayes says.

Then teachers and counselors began asking for it, which was thrilling and labor-intensive given that the game had scads of pieces that had to be cut and sewn; each game has 200 maple leaves, for example.

Demand grew so much that Foote, who now parcels out the tasks of making the game, last year stopped working as a school counselor to start Cultivating Connections, a business with Branch Out! as its core product.

The game, which the state Office of the Attorney General has lauded for its anti-bullying focus, costs $499 and comes with a 12-week curriculum. There also is a Spanish-language version.

SCHOOL TO WORK

Branch Out! has done just that, growing from its roots in elementary school classrooms to colleges to corporate team building - anywhere there's a group of people that needs to connect and work together, Foote says.

Last summer, Foote and Hayes discussed the game in front of 90 professors and psychologists from around the world who were attending the Congress of the International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology conference in Budapest, Hungary.

If all goes well, Foote hopes to produce a home and travel version of Branch Out! by the end of 2004.

More than 100 versions of the game have been sold.

"I wasn't imagining anything but to help me in my job as a school counselor in creating an environment where all students can be successful," she says.

"It's because the questions apply to anybody. Even adults need to reflect on their school experience because it impacts their choices today, Foote adds.

Carol Ellis, a part-time school counselor at Seahurst Elementary School, says she's been in the field for 25 years and knows when something works for kids and is good for them.

"I believe Branch Out! is that," the Seattle resident says.

A grandmother herself, Ellis splurged and bought a game so she could play with her family, calling it a "great way for old and young to share."


More info

More on Branch Out! is available at www.cultivatingconnections.com; or telephone 647-5120.

Reach Kie Relyea at 715-2234.

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