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How are you? SGF builds social-emotional wellness programs into everyday learning

November 19, 2020

An important piece of the reopening plan in the South Glens Falls CSD has been to continue to build on its theme of mental health by placing a priority on social-emotional wellbeing for students and staff.

Students participating in Open Circle online discussion.

Efforts to implement broader mental health programming for school reopening have been in progress since the summer. The goal has been to identify students and families in need of additional support during the transition back to in-person learning and to provide them with resources, while providing staff with professional development opportunities to learn best practices for social-emotional learning (SEL), the impact of trauma on social-emotional development, behavior and learning, and ACEs (adverse childhood experiences).

Mental Health Survey

This fall, the district checked in with each student through a survey to make sure any mental health needs or concerns could be recognized and addressed.

Students in grades 3-12 took an in-class survey independently in mid-October, and all parents/guardians of students in kindergarten through grade 12 were invited to complete a similar survey on behalf of their student. In total, 1,650 students in grades 3-12 participated, including 66 percent of students in grades 3-5 and 72 percent of students in grades 6-12. Twenty seven percent of parents/guardians completed the survey as well.

“We’re still reviewing survey data and planning how to respond to students,” said Instruction Team Leader for K-12 Student Support and SGFHS Counselor Kathy Schnackenberg. These plans are developing but may include classroom-based activities, such as encouraging students to talk about their feelings, small group support sessions or referrals to outside agencies if needed.

Interesting survey takeaways include:

  • 65 percent of students worry about the health and safety of their family
  • 20 percent of students indicated they experienced a loss or disruption during the shutdown in the spring when school was not in session

What is social-emotional learning (SEL)?

SEL is the process through which we acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SGF has been working to incorporate SEL into daily instruction through several programs.

Open Circle

Students participating in Open Circle outside.Last year, the district started piloting the SEL program Open Circle in eight elementary classrooms in response to New York state requirements for mental health education. This past summer, 44 elementary teachers were trained in the Open Circle program, which is run through Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

“Open Circle is the early learner version of Restorative Justice, which we have implemented at the middle and high schools,” said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Tim Dawkins. “We believe Open Circle is an excellent way to build students’ emotional vocabulary while teaching them about empathy, appropriate behavior, responsibility and how to interact with peers in a healthy way. It will pave the way for students’ social and emotional development as they get older.”

Open Circle aims to:

  • Proactively develop children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions, empathy, positive relationships and problem solving; and
  • Help schools develop a community where students feel safe, cared for and engaged in learning.

Renee Frey, a Harrison Ave. Elementary School kindergarten teacher says Open Circle fits perfectly with the work the district is doing to focus on mental health in general. Frey volunteered to participate in the training last year and has been using it regularly in her classroom.

Students at the elementary level participate in Open Circle regularly for short “circle” times. Frey’s students recently formed a socially-distanced circle and talked through what they might do if a classmate is not being safe. Open Circle helps students understand what is safe, and gives them language to speak to each other respectfully when they have a problem. It also helps them recognize and develop emotions (positive and negative) and how to process their feelings.

“The curriculum has helped online learners by being able to connect with classmates virtually,” said Kristen Abrams, who is teaching in the Virtual School this year. “As a classroom, we focus on our ‘school listening look’ and that we can have big and small feelings towards our current situation. Our class is able to discuss what it may feel and look like to be frustrated, or proud when they are tech problem solvers.”

District leaders hope that by learning these skills at an early age, students will be better-equipped to handle relationships, disagreements and choices as they get older.

“I think this program addresses the students’ social and emotional well being,” Frey said. “They love having a voice and being able to have time to express themselves, as well as the tools to do so appropriately.”

“SEL is a key component to the success of all students,” Abrams said. “The program has given students an outlet and the tools needed to express their emotions in a safe way/place. Students are more aware and able to handle not only their feelings, but the feelings of others which in turn has limited the amount of negative behavior that can sometimes happen between classmates.”

Social Emotional Learning Day

On Monday, Dec. 21, students at all levels will be participating in a districtwide Social Emotional Learning Day.

The day will be one for students to reflect on themselves and how to center themselves and better approach their lives both inside and outside of school. At the high school, students will be focusing on self awareness, self management, relationship skills and responsible decision making.

At the middle school, SEL lessons will be embedded into the content areas for each course, and at the elementary level, teachers will be working on lessons with students in their classrooms.

How do I request help for my child?

  • Referrals for school-based counseling and support services can be made by the teacher or parent by contacting the building.
  • Referrals to outside services and supports can be made by the school counselor, school social worker or school psychologist.
  • Referral to the Student Empowerment program through Saratoga Center for the Family can be made by filling out the referral form.
  • A Community Resource Guide is a comprehensive list of resources in the South Glens Falls area.

Category: Ballard News, District News, Harrison Ave News, Moreau News, SGFalls HS News, Tanglewood News, Winch MS News