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Social, emotional lessons make a difference in local schools

Saying it’s not enough to focus on just educational fundamentals, the Ohio State Board of Education is calling for implementation this school year of new Social-Emotional Learning standards for students — but several local schools are ahead of the curve, having utilized the theory for years.

The state board of education adopted the new program for social-emotional learning, or SEL, standards, titled, “Each Child, Our Future” in June, calling for it to be implemented this new school year in all grades K-12.

Ohio Department of Education Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria says it’s not enough to focus on fundamentals such as English, math, or science; education also needs to support the development of SEL and integrate it as a component of learning.

The Trumbull County Educational Service Center says most Trumbull County districts have had SEL programs in place for years.

And most schools in Mahoning County say they also already are utilizing a SEL platform known as PBIS for positive behavioral interventions and supports, which is a part of social emotional learning platform.

PBIS, in fact, is used in all 22 districts under the Mahoning County Educational Service Center umbrella, and several added the County Boards of Mental Health as well as counseling agencies, social workers, communication tools and social / emotional counselors to support those with more critical needs.

“The Mahoning County Educational Service Center has been working collaboratively with district superintendents, principals, guidance counselors and teachers to meet the needs of each child holistically, which is at the center of the strategic plan. The plan stresses three core principles: equity, partnerships and quality schools, each of which the MCESC is committed to helping districts achieve,” said Traci Hostetler, Superintendent of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center.

The MCESC works closely with Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College to continue SEL into young adulthood.

Districts, like the Youngstown City School District, have received grants to improve the culture and climate which includes social-emotional aspects. Youngstown Rayen Early College added a mediation room to aid with SEL in addition to reading U.S. Rep Tim Ryan’s book about mindfulness. The Rayen Early College Middle School has been integrating SEL for about five years and the rest of the district began using it three years ago.

The state is calling for increased focus on the “whole student” largely to prepare students for lifelong interactions in society.

“Human beings are social creatures. That means in society, successfully interacting with other people is essential to the effective functioning of a community, a workplace and even a family,” said DeMaria in his superintendent’s letter.

“Social-emotional learning improves children’s mental health and helps them avoid risky decisions, make healthy choices and stay drug free. We need to be more specific and intentional about helping students acquire these skills and understand that they are important to future success.

In Trumbull County, Warren City Schools have been using SEL for more than a decade, according to Superintendent Steve Chiaro.

“We began with the PK-five grades to help them manage emotions, become good listeners and resolve conflicts, then we brought it to the high school three years ago to help build a sense of community, work on active listening skills and develop empathy and goal setting,” said Chiaro. “It’s the same concepts, just catered to each level.”

Warren devotes 25 minutes a day after lunch to direct SEL curriculum. This is the first year the district is dedicating time for all grade levels, not just PK-5 and high school.

Kate Keller, TCESC Public and Community Relations Supervisor, said the districts she covers have been using SEL for quite some time as well.

“Some school districts have invested more money into specific curriculum,” said Keller. “An urban district may have more students with SEL needs than say a rural district or different types of SEL needs.”

Districts, like the Youngstown City School District, have received grants to improve the culture and climate which includes social-emotional aspects. Youngstown Rayen Early College added a mediation room to aid with SEL in addition to reading U.S. Rep Tim Ryan’s book about mindfulness. The Rayen Early College Middle School has been integrating SEL for about five years and the rest of the district began using it three years ago.

Chiaro and Dick agree that they have seen measurable improvements in student actions since adopting the programs, including declining suspension and expulsion rates at all grade levels.

“When something happens, we react before we respond. This is designed to teach self-regulation and produce clear thoughtful outcomes,” said Chiaro.

SEL programs are implemented by 240,000 educators serving in 3,500 schools and educating more than 1.7 million children.

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