As a Child Clinical Psychologist at Park, Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, or “Dr. O,” as students call her, has always had a passion for working in a school environment. She takes every opportunity to interact with students across the whole school and particularly those she may only see occasionally. And so, for over 20 years, she has been hosting “Cookie Chats,” a beloved tradition that combines cookies and conversation for Upper Division students.
Dr. O has traditionally held Cookie Chats in her office, with students rotating monthly by grade from grades six through eight, or through nine in the years when Park continued through Grade 9. Like Grade 4’s Lunch Bunch, the conversations in Cookie Chats aren’t structured in advance but cover various topics, from their next school decisions to their participation in plays or sports to a quick chat about a small moment in their lives. Some students play chess or cards, crochet, or draw after enjoying a cookie or two. “We’ll sometimes talk about funny things that have come up during our days, but my goal is to offer a consistent dollop of sweetness and connection in the middle of the week.”
In February, Dr. O became particularly concerned that she was seeing Grade 8 students infrequently given the location of the new Grade 8 space, and she was determined to fix this. Students used to pop into her office during their break times, but those traffic patterns and the Cookie Chat tradition got interrupted due to the pandemic and the newly located Grade 8 space. She decided to go to the student space and hold the Cookie Chats there. This seemed like the perfect time to restart this delicious moment, creating a special Grade 8 treat and a consistent time for connection.
These chats offer an informal opportunity for students to interact with Dr. O in a low-commitment and informal way every Wednesday during recess. Students can grab their fresh-baked cookies and be on their way, or they can hang out and chat for the twenty-minute block. The dining staff bakes fresh cookies (often chocolate chip!), and Dr. O hands each one out herself. “It’s a ritual complete with ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’,” she says, “a moment of eye contact and brief check-in to let them know that I see them and I’m here if they need anything.” The dining staff is a massive piece of the puzzle that makes these chats a resounding success! “I can’t say how appreciative the kids are, and I am, that they add us to their baking schedule every week. There is never a crumb left!”
Dr. O knows how important it is for students to feel seen and heard. She feels the chats are symbolic and makes a point of never being a no-show. “It is so important to show up. I want the students to know that I’m here for them and that they can count on me to be a consistent presence. The cookies make the time sweeter and ensure that they show up! The Cookie Chat time is predictable, a space of good energy and a time to cross paths with me in the middle of every week. I want them to know that I’m here to help them navigate the stress that comes with normal life and hope they will ask for support when they need it.” If students want to schedule a time to meet one-on-one with her, they can certainly do that. “Stress is a reality for students and will always be there. Part of my job is to help kids cope with it in healthy ways. I want them to know how to handle what life brings their way and to recognize when things are out of bounds and they need support.”
Beginning this fall, Dr. O plans to return the Cookie Chat tradition to its original form of including all grades in the Upper Division, from grades five through eight. She intends to host weekly Cookie Chats, traveling to a different location for each grade each week, with each grade getting one turn each month. Dr. O’s commitment to creating a sense of connection and support for students through Cookie Chats has become integral to the Park School experience. Her dedication to supporting students from PreK through middle school has created a legacy that will continue for years to come.
What does cookie chat mean to Grade 8?
“It is a great way to strengthen the 8th-grade community.”
“Stability. It strengthens us.”
“Something to look forward to.”
“Fun that it’s just Grade 8.”
“It makes us feel special.”
“I love the cookies.”
“It makes me happy.”
“It brings us together.”
“Good to build a community.”