Fourth grader Mia Gomez greeted me with a warm, proud smile before Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s State of the City address in January. The Mayor was recognizing Mia and her brother Maximo as shining examples of the impact of a summer program they had completed, which blended academics with enrichment and social-emotional learning (SEL).
It was an evening her parents could not have imagined a year earlier.
Mia’s parents told me she used to struggle with math and found reading to be painfully difficult. As a young student, her lack of confidence and ability to articulate challenges were becoming more evident, and the effort she put forth each day in school lessened. They say this changed, however, after Mia enrolled in BELL Summer.
“My Mia now stands up in front of the class and speaks with control and more confidence,” Mia’s mom, Katiria Gomez Morales told me that special night. “Reading is one of her priorities now. She learned how to make it interesting and has fun picking the right books that fit her interest.”
Teachers like Julie Latessa have witnessed Mia’s transformation from a struggling student to a thriving scholar. “Mia blossomed during the summer. She went from a shy, quiet student to a scholar who is strong, confident, and determined,” Latessa said. “I give great credit to Mia’s incredible theatre arts teacher, Magnolia Perez. She helped develop Mia’s self-confidence by creating a safe place for students where every member of the learning community is valued and respected.”
What’s even better is that Mia’s newfound love for math is translating into higher test scores, and improved homework and class work during the school year. Mia’s story is one of countless that shows the power of SEL and how it’s inextricably connected with academic achievement.
SEL –The Key to Building Educated Leaders for Life
SEL fosters the attitudes and skills needed to be a successful learner. CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, defines SEL as the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
The BELL SEL Approach
At BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), a national nonprofit, we have seen countless participating students, known as scholars, blossom like Mia did last summer. To create the leaders of tomorrow, we must equip students with a holistic blend of skills much earlier in the education continuum, as early as pre-K.
SEL skills increase students’ capacity to learn academic subjects. Scholars need to learn more than facts in order to do well in school. SEL helps students communicate more effectively with their teachers, and to collaborate with their peers to help them acquire and retain the information. Scholars experience success, gain self-confidence, and become more prepared to succeed in school, and in life.
When scholars develop their SEL competencies, we also see higher attendance rates as they are more motivated to learn and are committed to school. SEL helps students develop the will to keep trying when they do not understand a concept right away, instead of assuming they just are not good at that subject. SEL makes school something they look forward to each day instead of something to endure or avoid.
Schools that incorporate social-emotional learning also tend to have fewer disciplinary incidents. Students become less likely to act out in class or get suspended when they have a strong grounding in SEL strategies. They develop self-awareness that helps them understand their emotions and use strategies to control themselves when facing stress or frustration.
This approach yields positive results year after year. In 2017:
- BELL Summer scholars gained 2 months of reading skills and 3 months of math skills.
- Ninety-four percent of educators and 91% of parents reported that scholars have more confidence in themselves.
- Ninety-one percent of teachers reported that scholars exhibited a growth mindset.
- Eighty-eight percent of parents reported that their child had a more positive attitude about school.
As you design and develop afterschool and summer learning programs, consider infusing a strong SEL component. You, too, may find that it will build your students’ self-confidence, determination, and social skills. They will be well on their way to becoming better students and peers, and will be empowered with knowing that their brains and talent are just the starting point.
SEL can transform lives, just like I saw it change the lives of Mia Gomez and her family.