Districts of Distinction: Social-emotional learning category finalists

DA honors five K-12 districts as Districts of Distinction runners-up for SEL initiatives

DA’s Districts of Distinction program honors additional school systems each issue. Here are five social-emotional learning programs worth modeling.

1.Mission Explore, Malverne School District, N.Y.

Challenge: With students being pulled out of class for reading or math support, special education services and therapies—as well as new standards and state expectations for all—the needs of many were not being met. Students weren’t getting the creative and social outlets that they needed, including instruction in the social-emotional learning competencies.

Initiative: Mission Explore has redesigned the school day for K-5 students to have nine periods. With new courses and more play time built in, students and teachers are thriving. Students are communicating better, experiencing natural social opportunities, developing conflict resolution strategies, exploring technology and receiving academic supports. The emphasis is on developing the whole child.

IMPACT: Teachers have more time to collaborate and the morale in schools is at an all-time high. Teacher and student attendance has increased, while student discipline has decreased. Teachers saw a spike in student teamwork, independent conflict resolution and sportsmanship.

2. Trauma Responsive Schools, Upshur County Schools, Buckhannon, W.Va.

Challenge: District leaders wanted to improve the ability of educators to better understand how trauma often leads to school failure, truancy, suspension or expulsion, dropping out, or eventual involvement in the juvenile justice system. The overall goal: create a culture of respect and support in schools. In Upshur County, the poverty rate is 22.7% (compared to a national average of 12.3%), and mental health obstacles, apathy and the lack of parental involvement is crippling to school culture and student engagement.

Initiative: Schools are incorporating many interventions to reduce the negative impacts of trauma. Besides trauma-responsive trainings, the district organized a 2019 conference, Handle with Care, with training for the whole community.

IMPACT: More than 500 people attended the conference. The district also work with police and local agencies, placing community health care centers in most schools.

3. Reimagining Middle Grades, Broward County Public Schools, Fla.

Challenge: Many middle and high school students, a survey showed, felt bored and disconnected at school. Leaders at the district, the sixth largest in the U.S., wanted to re-engage students and improve academic success.

Initiative: Staff at all 44 middle schools got training in project-based learning (PBL) models coupled with a focus on social-emotional learning. The goal: fundamentally change the middle-grades experience to support engagement and achievement. Principals collaborate on how to make PBL more successful.    

IMPACT: A survey of trained staff showed that 84% had implemented one or more project during the school year and 98% said their students had positively benefited from participation in PBL. Nearly three in four planned to implement PBL in the coming year.

4. System of Care, Hampstead School District, N.H. 

Challenge: Officials had identified a need to refine programs, update facilities and create strategies that proactively address students’ educational risk-taking, emotional well-being and physical safety.

Initiative: A multi-tiered System of Care was developed to respond to students’ social-emotional needs. A committee selected a screening tool, wrote descriptions of the delivery of the tiered supports, identified the personnel responsible for delivering those support, and determined related professional development. A rubric was developed to measure students’ acquisition of social/emotional skills.

IMPACT: Staff are showing a great understanding of building relationships with students, which positively impacts the classroom environment and the whole school.

5. Coming Full Circle – SEL, PBIS and Restorative Practices, George I. Sanchez Charter School, Houston, Texas

Challenge: Teachers felt that lack of a constructive culture and climate was the No. 1 problem, with discipline being at the forefront of issues. Students had many behavioral needs, but services to support them were delivered compartmentally. Recidivism continued.

Initiative: The school aligned SEL programming with trauma-informed and restorative practices embedded in a previously-established PBIS initiative. A comprehensive SEL program is being implemented as direct instruction. Wraparound services—including extensive and individualized academic, social and emotional supports—are helping students overcome barriers to ensure they are on a path to success in career and life.

IMPACT: Math and ELA test scores are up and discipline referrals and out-of-school suspensions are significantly down. School climate surveys found a 52% satisfaction rate from students and staff, up from 10% prior to the initiative. 

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