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A focus on emotional well being and relationships is critical for children’s ability to engage and learn, especially during times such as these. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been proven to help children build confidence, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, collaborate with others, navigate social situations, develop strong relationships, make better decisions and succeed academically. Without a doubt, these are critical skills for all learners.
Promoting social and emotional development in the classroom involves teaching and modeling the behaviors and providing opportunities for students to practice the skills and apply them in different situations. For many children, school is the place where they learn these skills and where they can test them out.
At Villa Maria Academy Lower School, teachers naturally foster these skills through their interactions with students throughout the school day. Beginning the day with prayer and morning meeting (in the lower grades) helps to build positive relationships, a sense of community and provides students with opportunities to connect with each other.
There are many other ways in which our teachers at Villa integrate social-emotional learning into what they are already teaching through activities such as:
- Journal Writing
- Read Alouds
- Daily Greetings
- Art Activities
- Classroom Jobs/Responsibilities
- Problem Solving Practice
- Encouraging Positive Self-Talk
- Encouraging Reflection
- Celebrating Diversity
- Encouraging Kindness
- Practicing Empathy
- Involving Students in Service Learning Opportunities
Social Emotional Learning is not just taught using one thing. It is a multitude of learning activities that helps to support our students every day. Creating a student-centered environment where students apply these concepts within activities helps deepen understanding and increases the chance of retaining the information.
Student support professionals such as guidance counselors are another system of support for students. The Guidance Program provides various services to help children cope with emotional, social, behavioral and/or academic problems. Non-Public School Services (NPSS) provides counseling services to Villa Maria Academy Lower School through the Chester County Intermediate Unit.
As Villa Maria Academy’s school counselor, Carol Gaspar is available for:
- Developmental Classroom Guidance Lessons
- Individual Counseling
- Group Counseling
- Parent/Teacher Consultation
- Referral Services
Carol visits classrooms from grades K-8 to become more visible and develop relationships with the students. She provides age-appropriate group guidance lessons to learn skills such as how to get along with others, how to cope with stress, ways to improve self-confidence, and how to study. Various hands-on activities and discussion are also used to foster the development of social, emotional, and organizational skills expected of students at each grade level.
Carol has also works on communication skills with the girls. In the age of technology and social media, in-person communication has become more challenging. She has worked on addressing things like tone, body language and facial expressions and other non-verbal communication skills. She teaches them how to start a conversation, and continue it, and how to go about including new students.
Individual counseling is also available to students who want or need one-to-one guidance in resolving their problems. Students may be referred for individual counseling by their parents, teachers or by the students themselves. Parent permission is obtained for individual counseling services.
Group counseling, referral services, and parent-teacher consultations are also available to students and families.
It’s important to establish strong relationships with students. Teaching SEL through health and physical education also helps students navigate many of the challenges they face each day. It promotes academic achievement and positive social behavior.
In the younger grades, PE teacher, Mrs. Tricia Boczkowski teaches the girls about “I am” statements such as “I am strong,” “I am powerful,” “I am smart,” and often practices short mindful meditations to focus their thoughts at the end of each class. She teaches them breathing exercises and centering exercises to use when they are upset or worried.
In middle school, she talks about the importance of socialization and open communication. She wants the girls to know that it is “OK to not be OK” and to ask for help from a trusted adult or friend. Each semester she offers optional SEL enrichment opportunities for the girls to work on and teaches them different ways to work through any stress and anxiety that they may be experiencing.
Building safe and positive school climates and cultures such as this directly affects student success. If students are mentally and emotionally healthy, they are better equipped to face the challenges life brings.