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  • Writer's pictureJustin Marlang

School districts focus on the emotional, social development of students

OCTOBER 23, 2021

With an understanding of the impacts that a trauma like a school shooting or quarantine isolation — as well as more traditional problems like domestic violence or homelessness — can have on children, local elementary school officials are touting the benefits of a social-emotional learning model.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a nonprofit dedicated to the healthy development of all children, has been introducing SEL to educators throughout the nation, including Santa Clarita Valley elementary school districts, for nearly a decade, according to local officials.

However, this year, districts have looked to increase their focus on this type of learning, as it’s been helpful with children working through some of the extraordinary obstacles to traditional classroom learning faced in the past 18 months.

Students have to memorize a series of physical motions as they follow along with a brain-building exercise during Social Emotional Learning class at Meadow Elementary School in Valencia on Thursday, 102121. Dan Watson/The Signal

The goal is to inspire students for their future, according to Elizabeth Carson, the lead counselor at Newhall School District.

“Students face trauma and problems, and this provides children with a foundation so that in the future they can develop healthy relationships, secure career satisfaction and more,” Carson said.

SEL is the process in which young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities; manage emotions and achieve personal goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Carson added that SEL has jumped to “the forefront” of education, and the Newhall district has offered SEL for about seven years, both in the classroom and online lessons made available through the Second Step program.

Second Step is one of many programs that educators can choose from that offer SEL units and lesson plans to implement in the classroom. Castaic Union, Sulphur Springs Union and Saugus Union school districts implement SEL through different programs.

“SEL has great benefits for our children,” Catherine Kawaguchi, superintendent of the Sulphur Springs district, said in a prepared statement. “In our district, we are focusing on the whole child. We know that it is a top priority to ensure that our students have their social and emotional needs met so they thrive academically.”

These lessons help children learn about SEL’s five core skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making skills. Second Step, for example, provides teachers with units on growth mindset and beneficial settings, emotion management, empathy and kindness, and problem-solving for their students.

Victoria Punzalar, 7, describes her drawing about learning a new thing during Social Emotional Learning class at Meadow Elementary School in Valencia on Thursday, 102121. Dan Watson/The Signal

The Castaic district has been using the Frog Street Curriculum, another SEL program, in its preschool programs for several years, said Superintendent Steve Doyle.

After seeing the benefits of how pre-K students engaged with their lessons and learned the importance of apologizing and respecting others, the district decided to implement social-emotional learning throughout the district.

“We have continually been seeing more issues surrounding mental health with students, so we knew we needed to address the issue,” Doyle said in an email.

As more incidents of school shootings, bullying and more occur across the nation, it made schools reflect on how to support their students before an incident of that gravity happens, according to Doyle.

“Schools have become more proactive in addressing students’ needs,” Doyle said in the email.

This year, the Castaic district introduced a districtwide initiative on SEL, understanding there would be challenges with students returning from COVID-19 lockdown, he said.

Jennifer Henningfield, a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical supervisor of early childhood services for Child and Family Center, added the effects of lockdown varied on children. Some children developed anxiety or depression because of limited interaction with others, while other children thrived with at-home learning and being around fewer people.

Grace Murray, 8, right, hands in her drawing about learning a new thing to Counselor Mariah Harvey to be projected for the class during Social Emotional Learning class at Meadow Elementary School in Valencia on Thursday, 102121. Dan Watson/The Signal

However, she added some of the negative effects caused by the lockdown compiled on children dealing with traumatic experiences such as household dysfunction.

According to Henningfield, there are incidents where children witnessed domestic violence in their homes, and they see it as abuse of the parent, but it’s an abuse of them, too. SEL helps children overcome experiences of trauma because they can recognize and process the emotions caused by the abuse.

Larry Schallert, the assistant director of the Student Health & Wellness/Mental Health program at College of the Canyons, said there are benefits to teaching young people how to express and identify their emotions and vital thoughts.

“You can’t expect them to be 21-year-olds, but they can learn how to define their emotions,” Schallert said. “A lot of people lack coping skills because they were never taught those skills.”

Individuals who learn coping skills can then develop resiliency, then as they go through life, although complicated, it will be a bit easier to navigate, he added.

Carson mentioned how many parents find SEL helpful, too. While students were learning from home, some parents experienced SEL firsthand.

“A parent was saying how, ‘Adults need to work on saying their problems without placing the blame on the other individual,’” Carson said. “It makes a difference on how they (parents) approach their children. It’s good advice and a reminder for parents, too.”


Writer: Jose Herrera

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