Schools throughout the nation are implementing groundbreaking programs to improve K-6 students’ capacity to deal with daily tasks and challenges effectively.
One such curriculum labeled Social-Emotional Learning Language Arts (SELLA) is being developed by the Montgomery County Educational Service Center (MCESC) in Montgomery County, Ohio. The SELLA curriculum creates a climate and culture conducive to learning through its systemic approach integrating organizational strategies that promote Social Educational Learning (SEL) as a schoolwide initiative with a language arts curriculum.
In this article, Denise Hamet discusses the national standards for a Social and Emotional Learning program, and highlights the implementation of the SELLA in schools in the Greater Dayton area.
What is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Why do We Need It
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defined SEL more than two decades ago as the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
As tolerance levels change, and kids become more reliant on technology and social media, social-emotional competencies are decreasing, and schools are faced with new teaching challenges. Additional difficulties are incurred as many districts are dealing with growing levels of student poverty and single-parent households. Finding ways to build resilience and problem solving is essential. Recent mass violence also points to the need for improved mental health of our population.
Research shows that SEL programs have long-term benefits that include helping students become productive, happy, and well-adjusted citizens. When properly implemented as an integrated curriculum, SEL becomes an essential part of student interaction with other students, teachers, and adults in and outside of school. SEL supports learning environments that are supportive and welcoming to all students.
Per CASEL, research demonstrates that SEL programming significantly improves children’s academic performance on standardized tests. Moreover, compared to control groups, children who have participated in SEL programs have significantly better school attendance records, less disruptive classroom behavior, they like school more, and perform better in school. The research also indicates that children who have participated in SEL programs are less likely than children in control groups to be suspended or otherwise disciplined.
In addition to strengthening academic performance, SEL programs lead to behavioral improvements and create a high return on investment for school systems. Current long-term studies indicate improved outcomes through SEL for adults in emotional health, productivity, and avoiding substance abuse.
CASEL has identified the following competencies as the main components of any SEL program or curriculum for schools.
The Montgomery County Educational Service Center’s SELLA Program
The MCESC SELLA program is designed to support individual student growth through teacher-guided reading, writing, and language art development. In a video about the SELLA program, Shannon Cox, Superintendent of the MESC, states that this program uses the child as the topic of the curriculum to build whole person skills and increases writing for young people. This is in combination with personal experiences in the five competencies identified by CASEL. The program includes a journal, which is a student favorite. In addition to general curriculum materials, it includes breathing techniques. As Shannon reflects, “by taking control of our breathing, we can often take control of a situation that seems uncontrollable.”
According to Jessica Davies, Director of Social Emotional Learning Services of Montgomery County ESC, their SELLA curriculum allows teachers to meet all writing standards and ODE’s social-emotional learning standards at the same time.
The program is being implemented in about 11 school districts in the Greater Dayton area and is being piloted in additional schools outside that area to build diversity of data. The program is currently available for fourth through sixth-grade students, and the MESC is piloting grades 2 and 3 now, with Kindergarten and first grade to be added January 2020.
In addition to continuing to grow the curriculum to include additional grades, the MESC is expanding the program to include new materials through a partnership with singer-songwriter Jewel. The singer’s products and mindfulness exercises will be incorporated into the curriculum as well. Jewel will have some face-to-face involvement with school employees to help develop the curriculum further and to get some of Jewel’s creative products involved in the program. She feels strongly devoted to the curriculum, in large part due to her difficult childhood.
Essential new parts of the curriculum involve moving beyond ordinary reading and classroom assignments. Students are learning the value of keeping personal journals, developing deep breathing techniques, and gaining respect and tolerance towards others through collaborative student note-taking.
The MESC is also working to build data regarding the effectiveness of the program through an exciting new partnership formed in January with the University of Dayton to research the use of the SELLA Curriculum. The students are studying the effects of the curriculum on students who are using it versus students not receiving SELLA.
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