The Star in the Apple

Uncovering the Light of Our Core Goodness and Innate Mental Health

Take the ordinary, familiar apple. (Yes… go and get one from your obligatory stash of go-to food staples.) Look closely. It is a simple fruit, so overlooked and undervalued. Most of us don’t think of anything extraordinary, but I don’t think I will ever look at an apple in the same way again. I see the star of Core Goodness in the apple, shining brightly inside every person, everywhere, and inside you and me.

Over 30 years ago, Jane Tucker, a 3 Principles youth educator, used the image of an apple to symbolize “our healthy core of positive feelings and wisdom inside.” This profoundly simple metaphor served as one of the starting points for a 20-year effort to bring the Three Principles to life for younger students. With the assistance of Deb Bell, 2nd/3rd-grade teacher, the first lessons of the Core Goodness curriculum materialized.

The “apple lesson” teaches about Core Goodness, the first of three “gifts” that everyone, everywhere, is born with. This lesson has proven to be a fun and memorable experience for students. To summarize the main teaching points of this scripted lesson:

  1. No matter what an apple looks like, whether it’s red, green, yellow, bruised, or has a worm, there’s always a core inside.
  2. If you cut an apple horizontally, (yes, do this if you have an apple), you will find a star, just like in all of us. Our Core Goodness, the goodness in our hearts, is like a star or light that shines brightly from inside and lights our way throughout our life.
  3. The “seeds” of Core Goodness, as symbolized by the seeds in the star or core of the apple, include wisdom, love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, compassion, and self-compassion.

What obscures the light of our Core Goodness? That is the second “gift” of Thinking. Some of the teaching points in the lessons about Thinking are as follows:

  1. We only lose touch with our Core Goodness by thinking ourself away from it. We imagine our thoughts as bubbles in one lesson, and our brains are like big, bubble-making machines. Whatever happens, thoughts, like bubbles, always pass, “pop,” or fade away.
  2. We can choose which thoughts to believe and which thoughts aren’t helping us.
  3. All of our feelings come from our thoughts because we are always feeling our thinking. Comfortable feelings are our wisdom telling us that what we are thinking is helpful and that we are connected to our Core Goodness. Less comfortable or uncomfortable feelings are our wisdom letting us know that we are thinking in a way that isn’t helpful.

Our third gift is Noticing, or friendly, mindful awareness of what is happening outside of us and inside of us. Mindfulness practices, including learning about the power of our breath and yoga poses, help connect our minds and bodies to feel centered, calm, and connected to our Core Goodness.

What started as a pilot curriculum grew and spread organically in the best way possible. Teachers and administrators became curious about the changes seen in students and “wanted in.” Parents liked the changes seen in their children and wanted to learn more. One elementary school adopted the curriculum as part of their third-grade health curriculum and a Tier 1 primary prevention strategy for the entire elementary school. Recently, this school earned recognition as a national “Blue Ribbon” school and included the impact of the Core Goodness curriculum as part of the application.

One of the most remarkable moments occurred during an elementary school lockdown. The lockdown was instituted because of an armed robbery at a nearby bank. Teachers reported they were able to keep themselves and their students calm throughout by using mindfulness strategies from the curriculum. In the end, everything turned out ok. The situation also turned into an “on-the-spot” teachable moment, which is what this understanding is all about. A question from a 3rd-grade student started a lively discussion. The question was this, “Does the armed robber have core goodness?” The conclusion of this discussion was, “Yes, of course, everyone has core goodness. The robber either wasn’t listening to his core goodness or has covered it up.”

The pandemic has reinforced that comprehensive mental health education matters, not as an add-on but as a critical component in every aspect of the school environment. Is this challenge a crisis or opportunity?

Let’s look at the apple once again. What is possible for ourselves and our children as we model and teach from the Principles? The apple metaphor offers one possibility for understanding our innate mental health and transforming mental health education for children. It is hopeful, and it is strengths-based. Kids (like everyone) don’t need to be fixed, they are not broken. Take a bite of the apple and taste how good it is for yourself.



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Paula Smith

Paula Smith


School Psychologist, Professional Harpist, Certified Dynamic Mindfulness Trainer, Certified SEE Learning Curriculum, Author of “Core Goodness” K-4 Curriculum