Social Emotional Learning Used in Powell Schools – Powell Tribune | Team Cansler

For 16 years, Park County School District 1 has had a program that teaches students problem solving, emotional regulation, kindness, empathy, and respect for one another.

Second Step, taught to the Powell Kindergarten by eighth grade students, originally came to the district as an anti-bullying program. It’s now called social emotional learning. Character Strong is another SEL program used at Powell High School. The positive benefits of SEL are backed by decades of research, said Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis.

A study published by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning and conducted by Joseph A. Durlak, Roger Weissberg, Allison Dymnicki, Rebecca Taylor, and Kriston B. Schellinger conducted a meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs, the 200,000K+ included -12 students. The study showed improvement not only socially and emotionally, but also academically compared to control groups. Students in the study who participated in SEL showed an 11% increase in performance.

“At our core, we teach problem solving, we teach emotion regulation, and we teach kids how to recognize their emotions and respond appropriately,” Curtis said. “We also teach kindness, empathy, respect and basically teach kids how to be good friends and good workers.”

Curtis said these traits are also known as soft skills, which employers “have basically been asking us for years to teach kids the soft skills that will help them be successful in the workplace.”

Curtis said SEL was added to the district’s strategic learning plan for K-12 students in 2019, prior to which it was taught to K-8. The plan can be viewed on the PCSD1 website.

He said when he started as superintendent in 2017, the program was primarily taught in elementary schools, but subsequent students would lose skills learned from what they learned in elementary school that were transferrable to college and professional life. Curtis said that while SEL started out as an anti-bullying program and has been “extremely effective,” it is also academically effective and very effective for fostering bonds among students in schools. In the district, each school selects approximately eight hours of instruction to focus on since there is not enough time to complete the entire Second Step program.

Examples of lessons offered by Second Step are empathy. A module in the empathy unit for fifth graders aims for students to be able to name a happy feeling versus a sad feeling, identify what is pleasant or unpleasant, and identify feelings in reaction scenarios. A first class unit is Learning Skills. The objectives of this unit are to name and demonstrate the listening rules and to practice listening and following instructions in the context of a game.

in the district

At Westside Elementary School, Principal Angela Woyak sees a reduction in discipline rates and an increase in academic performance with the help of Second Step.

“I think the benefits of the overall system are reduced discipline rates, and we have that because our kids are able to think through problems, make smart decisions, exhibit those prosocial skills, and be self-regulating,” Woyak said. “So we’re certainly seeing reduced disciplinary rates.”

Woyak added that in her 25 years of training between Wyoming and Wisconsin, every district she was a part of had some form of SEL.

“We use a lot of STEP, an acronym for ‘state the problem, think of solutions, examine outcomes or consequences, and choose the best solution. So a lot of critical thinking,” said Christa Buhler, counselor for Westside Elementary School. “We take perspectives and a lot of that is basic emotion identification and emotion regulation.”

Bühler added that having the modules taught by school counselors has the added benefit of creating an intimacy between students and their counselors.

Questions about SEL are piling up at Westside Elementary School, but Woyak believes it means parents are involved in their children’s education.

“I think we had a few more requests,” Woyak said. “I don’t know if these are necessarily concerns but certainly inquiries and I think we just have parents who are actively involved in their children’s education. [they] are committed to supporting their children and their education.”

Is Social Emotional Learning a Critical Race Theory?

Recent claims link SEL to critical race theory to varying degrees. Curtis said that until about a year ago he hadn’t heard the term critical race theory and needed to do extensive research. He said SEL predates CRT, which was originally occasionally taught in law schools in the ’70s and ’80s in relation to potential systemic racism in laws and systems.

“Now fast-forward to today, and the way it’s used is that, as Caucasian whites, you should kind of be ashamed of being white,” Curtis said. “We’re not even talking about race and social-emotional learning, the closest thing you might get is a unit where you’re supposed to talk about your similarities and differences with other people, but all it means is teaching people empathy.”

Curtis added that there are additional resources against racism and prejudice on the Second Step website. Curtis said these are resources and not lessons unlike a transformative SEL program. These resources are not used in the district because they see no need.

There is a relatively new form of SEL, known as transformative SEL, that can incorporate CRT concepts into the tutorial. Curtis said transformative SEL is not used at Park County School District 1 and all SEL programs in the district are carefully reviewed by its mental health coordinator, who watches each video. Curtis said he once visited the website for Character Strong and noticed that the term transformative SEL was used on the website. After calling the company, Character Strong explained that it is not a transformative SEL company and the term is no longer on the website. Curtis said the district is careful not to teach transformative SEL.

“We understand the community that we live in, our teachers, they live here, they work here, a lot of them were born and raised here,” Curtis said. “We all share a set of community values, we will not put anything in front of our children that doesn’t align with those community values.”

Parents and community members interested in learning more about the student curricula taught in PCSD1 can view them at Parents who would like to see lesson plans for the SEL programs will be made available by the district upon request.

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