APPLEGATE: Social emotional learning amid a pandemic

Working alongside families, educators help in building a foundation for their students so that they can grow academically, socially and emotionally. With growing concerns for the mental health of children across the country due to the pandemic, social emotional learning can help teach students to accurately understand their emotions, cope with life’s stresses and make responsible decisions.

SEL incorporates a level of social and psychological understanding into students’ everyday curriculum, providing them with the knowledge to build strong relationships with others and become more self-aware, socially aware and self-managed. While SEL has, understandably, received greater attention amid the pandemic,  Niles Community Schools implemented social emotional learning curriculum across its K-5 buildings several years ago to support mental health and student growth. .

In 2019, Keera Morton-Hayes joined Eastside Elementary as a student affairs specialist. She quickly noticed that many students were having difficulties with self-expression and conflict management. In response, Keera began teaching an emotional learning support class every Friday, helping students articulate their emotions through new vocabulary words and establish conflict resolution strategies. By adding these lessons for our elementary students, we are supplying them with essential knowledge to solve problems, better communicate and express their emotions.

At Niles Community Schools, SEL education extends beyond the elementary level. The district’s administrators, teachers, counselors and social workers immediately saw the value in the SEL program in its elementary schools and began plans to further develop and implement similar efforts across every school to support all students. The curriculum is already implemented for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, and we are piloting the program for our middle and high school students this year. The goal is a universal social emotional learning to ensure that we are providing the best foundation for every Niles Community Schools student. SEL looks different at the elementary, middle and high school level, and we are developing curriculums that are both appropriate and current to the everyday stresses for each age group.

Niles Community Schools teachers, staff and administrators have been participating in social emotional learning of their own during professional development meetings and trainings. We believe that in order to best educate our students, we need to understand the process and lessons first-hand. To further establish these skills, we will be encouraging families to talk to their children about emotions and therefore, parent training will be available and will be an essential component in our comprehensive plan to help children identify and cope in the future. 

While SEL helps provide students with the skills and knowledge to prevent and address mental health issues, we understand that there may be challenges that require additional support. To that end, the district is fully equipped with counselors, social workers and external resources to address the needs of its students.

We often speak of the high-quality education that we offer our students and families, and this includes integrating social emotional learning alongside teaching core subjects, such as English and math. The two work hand in hand, and research has found an increase in academic performance with students who took part in social emotional learning.

As we continue to address the many challenges our students and school community face as a result of the pandemic, we look forward to providing these services to Niles students and families for years to come. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our students and our schools, and go Vikes!

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