School Views: The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning
The Eagle County School District values the social-emotional well-being of students. Good social-emotional health enables individuals to understand and integrate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a way that supports greater well-being in life.
Since March 2020 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become even more important. The Eagle County School District strives to implement one of two programs in each school to guide this work. One program, Second Step, includes modules on goal setting and anti-bullying, among others. The second program, 7 Mindsets, promotes things like responsibility, gratitude, and positive thinking. Schools use whatever curriculum they want and both are based on universal principles that benefit all of our students.
These ideas, coupled with the work of our community partners, guide our efforts and allow us to better understand the needs of our children and provide them with the resources necessary to find social-emotional well-being.
Earlier this year, Colorado Children’s Hospital declared a state of emergency for youth mental health, and it’s also being felt here in Eagle County. Carrie Benway, executive director of Your Hope Center, believes the number of reported incidents of student mental health will only increase.
It is for this reason that the Eagle County School District, Eagle County Government, and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health have all committed additional funds to Your Hope Center with the ultimate goal of having at least a certified mental health clinician in each of our schools. Additional therapists supplement the work of school counselors by providing one-on-one therapy counseling sessions to students at no cost to families.
To help us assess student mental health, we use the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and the Behavioral and Emotional Screening System. Both surveys are conducted at all of our schools and any family that chooses not to participate is asked to opt out.
This is not a requirement, but they are powerful tools that help us determine the way forward to best meet the needs of our students. They are reliable universal social and emotional screening tools for students that provide a fair and unbiased way to see how they are progressing in their social and emotional development. Screenings can also help identify areas where school staff and parents/guardians can work together to improve student achievement.
Students who can monitor their own emotional health make better citizens, and our partners at the Vail Valley Partnership agree. Chris Romer, President and CEO of VVP, appreciates the thoughtful, pragmatic and empathetic approach to education. He said the skills included in the social-emotional curriculum prepare students to be critical thinkers and reflective members of the community.
The emphasis on responsibility and attitude helps prepare our young people for future workplaces that depend on teamwork and collaboration with customers, colleagues and the public and he sees this as a role essential to the Eagle County School District to provide this foundation to ensure our students are career-ready and prepared for the future. Erik Williams, Director of Community Development for VVP, commented specifically on how social-emotional well-being plays out in our young adults who become contributing members of our business community. This is a subject he is passionate about and he hopes to discuss more about them as they are so important to the development of a well-rounded youth.
I understand that teaching reading, writing and arithmetic is essential, but I also strongly believe that it would be short sighted if we do not also ensure that our students are doing well socially and emotionally. .
Philip Qualman is the superintendent of schools for Eagle County. Email him at [email protected].