How social and emotional learning became a priority for schools during the pandemic

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SSocial and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process of developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors of students and adults that they need to make successful choices. And he was in schools longer than he had an official title.

The term SEL was coined in the mid-1990s, but “for as long as public schools have existed, public school educators have worked with the whole child to make sure the child feels safe, secure. and ready to learn, ”Michigan said. The President of the Education Association (MEA) Paula Herbart.

During a pandemic that isolated children and left more than 3,000 children in Michigan mourning a primary caregiver – with Black children represent 40% of impacted children – state and education leaders stress that the need for social and emotional learning in schools is greater than ever before.

“It’s such a powerful thing for us as individuals to be able to identify and understand our own emotions, but also to understand what our options are and what we can do with them in our relationships,” said the representative. of the State Felicia Brabec (Township D-Pittsfield.), who is also a clinical psychologist. “These are really important life skills that we use as adults. It makes sense to build this into schools, because there are a lot of places where we talk about life skills, and that’s just another life skill. This is important in order to be able to succeed for future generations. “

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The pandemic has particularly affected young people and their social and emotional well-being.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a to study conducted by the Detroit Public Schools Community District in conjunction with the University of Michigan’s Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students (TRAILS) program and the Youth Policy Lab, found that more than half of students surveyed in the DPSCD exhibited symptoms of anxiety or depression. .

“The results clearly showed that DPSCD students experienced high levels of mental health needs even before COVID-19,” said Robin Jacob, Co-Director of the Youth Policy Lab and Associate Research Professor at the Institute for Social Research, University of Manitoba. “With the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, the need for mental health supports for students in Detroit is even greater now.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer sign the state has over $ 17 billion School support budget in July, which included $ 240 million over three years for school counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers in high need districts and a $ 17 million increase to support education programs. mental health in schools.

Michigan Department of Education include the health, safety and well-being of students as a goal in the state’s strategic education plan and define SEL standards for Michigan schools that focus on five key skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, and Responsible Decision-Making.

Herbart said the governor’s investment in K-12 education is a step in the right direction to ensure the social and emotional well-being of students, but there is still work to be done.

“The problem is, during years of austerity, we let go of our social workers and we let go of the counselors, like nice things but not critical. And when are they critical? In the event of a pandemic or after a pandemic. And now we just don’t have the people who took those jobs to fill them, ”Herbart said. “Now we are witnessing this crisis of shortage of social workers, counselors, support professionals and behavior specialists who help every student, not just students who have other abilities. “

State Representative Felicia Brabec with her husband, David, during her swearing-in (House Democrats via Michigan Advance)

In February, Barbec introduced a bill to help address this problem.

Bill 4156 would require school districts to employ one counselor for every 450 students in the district. The bill was referred to the GOP-led House Education Committee and has seen no action since.

“It’s not that I think one in 450 is where we should be. It is not, but it is a step in the right direction, ”said Brabec. “I see that all of the work that we have to do is often incremental. I will continue to work with my fellow Republicans to see what needs to be changed in the bill and how to achieve that end goal.

In the 2018-19 school year, Michigan had the second-worst trustee-to-student ratio in the country, behind Arizona, with one trustee per 691 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends that states have one counselor for every 250 students.

Despite the history of SEL in public education and its importance during the pandemic, right-wing commentators like Fox News’ Tucker carlson, began to target it as the last flashpoint of the culture war in schools.

Politicization has had effects at the state level in a few states. Idaho The Ministry of Education, which has championed SEL for years, is distancing term itself because of the way it has been politicized. In Virginia, Parents Defending Education (PDE), a black money group with ties to Koch’s political network, is targeting the state Department of Education and local school districts to set SEL standards.

It’s such a powerful thing for us as individuals to be able to identify and understand our own emotions, but also to understand what our options are and what we can do with them in our relationships. These are really important life skills that we use as adults.

In Michigan, GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley slammed SEL earlier this month at the Newaygo Grassroots dinner. Kelley compared SEL to Critical Race Theory, a college-level concept focused on the history and continuing effects of white supremacy in the United States.

“We’re talking about the Department of Education, schools, Critical Race Theory, SEL. This is the whole critical theory of race. Everything is there to divide that skin color so that it’s less likely to be successful and that skin color should feel guilty about everything she’s done in the past, ”Kelley said. “So I said that when I am elected governor and the education ministry does not want to commit to getting rid of all teaching that divides… I will be happy and with enthusiasm as governor to sign a executive decree which eliminates the Ministry of Education. . “

State representative Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.), A former teacher, said the politicization of SEL was unnecessary and harmful to students.

“Teaching empathy and kindness and teaching problem solving shouldn’t be political. It should not be used to divide an already toxic educational debate. Especially during a pandemic, we learn that there are so many more needs of our students that need to be met, for example, their emotional well-being and their mental health, ”Camilleri said.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news offices supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c (3) public charity. Michigan Advance retains editorial independence. Contact editor Susan Demas with any questions: [email protected] Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.


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