Social and emotional learning (SEL) is especially important for youth. It’s the process through which they understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. Working in schools every day, our site coordinators see the need for learning these skills. Africa Brown, site coordinator at Fred A. Toomer Elementary saw this need with her students and reached out to find assistance. She found AmeriCorps intern and Whitefoord Clinic patient educator, Taylor Henderson. Taylor tells us why SEL is so important and how she works with caseload students to build their self-esteem.
Why is social and emotional learning important to you?
SEL is something that’s left out of a lot of curriculums. Lacking those soft skills can set kids back. Students can be smart, but if they can’t rein in their impulses or emotions then there will be problems down the line. That’s why I like working with the kids in this area. I help them develop their social and interpersonal skills. You can mold them and show them how to open up and combat their problems.
What specific things are you doing to help kids manage their emotions and set goals?
I teach an etiquette class to Ms. Brown’s 3rd to 5th grade girls. I meet with them every week and teach them practices that work on their self-esteem and mental health. Two weeks ago, we started creating vision boards. I had the girls write down resolutions and why it’s important to set goals for yourself. We discuss goals for school, home, relationships and life. Every week we review the goals and I hold them accountable for making meaningful strides to achieve them.
What are the biggest problems you see when working with students to set goals?
A lot of the girls I work with are involved with drama. There have been a couple of big blowouts at school and I continually teach conflict resolution techniques on how to work on their aggression and manage their feelings. Another common thread is that many students struggle with low self-esteem and being able to make meaningful connections with their peers. A lot of them have issues at home and that’s where a lot of the problems stem from.
What has been your biggest takeaway?
As I interact and connect with the girls, they confide in me. They tell me things that they know to be problems in their communities and at home. I realized that some students just don’t have the role model to look up to. They’re not learning these emotional skills at home. That’s why it’s important to teach these skills in a consistent and caring manner.
How else are you tapping into helping kids achieve success?
Through working with Ms. Brown, she let me know that some of the kids she works with had a need for winter coats. Realizing this, I organized a coat drive with my parents and we got about 50 coats donated to the school. Ms. Brown and I also started a healthcare initiative. We’ll be bringing in medical college students and they will be teaching a few kids from each grade. Each kid has the responsibility to teach what they learned to their class- so the entire school benefits.
If you could leave students with one thing to help them achieve success, what would it be?
We have a saying in etiquette class: Etiquette is always showing respect and kindness to others and yourself. I have the girls repeat that every day. I really emphasize that they need to remember to be kind to themselves. In school, I think we always teach kids to be nice and kind to others, but we don’t teach them how to love themselves- and that’s how they can build self-esteem.