A look at SEL’s evolving importance during and after COVID

'SEL has to be taught and a part of every classroom,' state education official says

South Carolina may be home to the nation’s only “social-emotional learning crosswalk.”

But this SEL crosswalk does not lie not on the physical route to any of the state’s schools. Rather, it’s a map of how widely-accepted SEL skills intersect with the South Carolina Department of Education vision of a high school graduate.

“One thing the pandemic has shown is the need in our schools for effective SEL,” says David Mathis, the department’s deputy superintendent. “In those three words, ‘learning’ is the most important—SEL has to be taught and a part of every classroom.”

The crosswalk concept guides South Carolina teachers in helping students develop the five core SEL skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills and responsible decision-making, says Stephanie DiStasio, the department’s director of personalized learning.

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To drive the process, the crosswalk shows educators where the state’s “Profile of a South Carolina Graduate” competencies overlap and, in turn, provide opportunities to embed SEL skills across the curriculum, DiStasio says.

The profile of a graduate (see image above) covers competencies such as career-oriented math skills, creativity and innovation, and knowing how to learn.

The crosswalks can be used to design assessments, set goals and guide parent-teacher conferences, DiStasio says.

The Department of Education is starting to work with after-school providers and summer camps to have those organizations adopt and teach the same SEL skills. This will help student identify the SEL skills they’ve developed outside the classroom.

“We’re trying to recover academically in our content areas, but in order to do that we have mee the social-emotional needs of our students,” Mathis says. “When teachers are effective at SEL, they really understand how their students learn and the best way they learn.”

Coping with grief and trauma

On the other side of the country, Fontana USD in Southern California is meeting an increased need for counseling during COVID by providing services at every level of instruction and leveraging partnerships with mental health providers.

The district has worked to accelerate referrals for students, particularly for those who don’t have health insurance.

“We have seen a huge increase in trauma and grief for our students,” says Elizabeth Romanio, a Fontana USD social emotional support specialist. “Depression and anxiety have always been high and those have remained high.”

Much of the counseling work has been done virtually this school year, and the need has increased each time the district has decided to extend virtual learning.

Some students have continued to struggling with “life on a computer screen,” adds Melissa Jimenez, another social emotional support specialist. Being at home has, in some households, led to an increase in sibling conflicts.

“Grief isn’t just loss of a loved things, it’s a loss of things students once loved—playing sports, going to church, hanging out with friends,” Jimenez says. “They think we’re never going to come out, they’re never going to come back to school and be with friends.”

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More parents aren’t also reaching out for help, both to manage their own self-care and support students who are struggling with feelings of isolation and anger, Romanio adds.

“Parents have really had to step up and figure out how to be teachers,” Romanio says. “Parents have this sense of failure and not being good enough.”

The district’s counseling have increasing training for all staff in recognizing signs grief and loss, such as students making negative comments about themselves or not logging to virtual classes.

“People are more aware of social-emotional needs than ever before,” Romanio says. “The pandemic has given us more of a platform to say this is a need.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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