Elementary school districts across the suburbs know their role. And it's not just to educate kids.
Districts serving children from kindergarten through fifth grade, and even into middle school, know they must be part teacher, part counselor, part friend and part advocate.
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Social and emotional learning programs are helping elementary districts fill all those roles and also teach students how to behave, believe in themselves and make friends.
The programs take several forms, but the goal often is to implement them seamlessly with the rest of classroom learning, administrators said. Here's a look at how some DuPage County elementary districts are helping students mature socially and emotionally.
Roselle District 12
Spring Hills School in Roselle began using a more cohesive curriculum for social and emotional learning schoolwide when the new year started Monday.
"We created more of a daily approach and a weekly approach for creating that community among not just grade levels but schoolwide," Principal Scott Kaese said.
The school already was helping students relate to their peers, get along with one another and play fair, but the new curriculum will not vary teacher to teacher, he said.
"The teachers have done such a great job of understanding the value" of social and emotional learning as the foundation of academic learning in traditional subjects, he said.
"You have to meet the social/emotional needs of the kids first thing when they walk in in the morning."
The trick will be getting students to recognize the importance of growing socially and emotionally.
But with a committee of six or seven teachers trained at a social and emotional learning workshop this summer, Kaese said he's excited to put the new curriculum in place.
"It's creating consistency," Kaese said. "Coming from the same place will create a common language."
Lombard District 44
After teachers at seven schools in Lombard District 44 get to know their students, they will fill out a strengths assessment for each child, evaluating the child's social and emotional skills.
This is the first year the district will use the evaluation, called the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, said Ellen Teelucksingh, assistant superintendent for special services.
"The biggest benefit is that it's going to give us information on all students," Teelucksingh said. "It gives us, as a district, the perspective of understanding if we need to place more emphasis on instructing in the social/emotional learning area."
The assessment provides a measure of each student's competency in eight social and emotional learning areas: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, goal-directed behavior, relationship skills, personal responsibility, decision-making and optimistic thinking. These areas correspond to the three social/emotional learning standards measured by the state.
Parents will be informed of their child's results so they can reinforce positive behaviors at home.
Evaluating students' relationship skills and other social behaviors is one way to further the district's mission of educating the "whole child," Teelucksingh said.
"The whole basis of this is to enhance student performance and academic achievement," she said.
Addison District 4
Schools such as Lake Park Elementary have been using a social/emotional learning framework for a few years to teach students to be safe, respectful and responsible, Principal Deb Martello said.
Teachers model behavior expectations for students at the beginning of the year in fun settings such as kickoff assemblies. Later, students role-play appropriate actions, like waiting a turn to use the water fountain or walking quietly in the hallway.
"How do we help kids grow socially and emotionally? A lot of it revolves around this program, and that it's becoming ingrained in not only these assemblies, but really the whole environment within the school setting," Martello said.
Some kids have to be reminded numerous times of the safe, respectful and responsible way to behave. But those who get the message and are seen being good are rewarded.
"The more kids feel safe and a part of our environment here, they can focus on learning," Martello said. "(When) they feel well-balanced and they have friends and they feel like the teacher is an advocate and supports them, they're going to learn."
Carol Stream Dist. 93
Collecting data about when, where and how often each student behaves improperly helps drive the way teachers in Carol Stream District 93 address their pupils' social and emotional needs, said Julie Augustyn, prevention and special education coordinator.
Teachers remain proactive to prevent bad behavior, but when it inevitably happens, they take note and make adjustments. They also state their expectations for student behavior early and often, so students are clear on the right way to act, Augustyn said.
"It's really a framework about being proactive and teaching explicitly behavior expectations to students and enabling them to be successful," Augustyn said.
Even as students internalize what's expected and behavior improves, teachers continue tracking when issues occur.
"We have seen progress in all of our buildings," Augustyn said after five years of using a social/emotional learning program that rewards students for positive actions.
"Data would support that it's been effective in reducing behavior (issues) and increasing academic time and performance."