Program Focuses On Monomoy Students' Social, Emotional Skills

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Monomoy Regional School District , Education

Students who lack social-emotional skills can have trouble empathizing with peers or asking for help from teachers.

When kids receive a high school diploma after 12 years of public school education, they're academically proficient. But a new program aims to help the Monomoy district generate young adults who are also aware of their own emotions and those of the people around them.

Together with eight other districts in Massachusetts, Monomoy has been selected to take part in a planning network addressing social-emotional learning. Students who lack these skills can have all kinds of problems, ranging from impulse control, a lack of empathy, poor decision making to trouble making friends.

Monomoy was among 36 districts seeking to take part in the Excellence through Social-Emotional Learning (exSEL) Network, which includes representatives of the state associations of school superintendents and school committees, with grant support from nonprofit partners. Together with the other participating districts, Monomoy will develop a plan for incorporating social-emotional learning practices into all grade levels.

Monomoy was the only Cape district selected for the program.

Chad d'Entremont, executive director of the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, one of the network's nonprofit partners, said the district will first design a strategy, then implement it in a small pilot project, collecting data to ensure that the initiatives are working. Only then will it be scaled up to include all students. Teaching these skills isn't about adding another curriculum item, d'Entremont said, but rather changing the way existing subjects are taught.

A typical classroom with rows of students facing a teacher who delivers a lecture might be switched up into three stations, he said. The first might involve a small group working on peer-led activities, with kids of different ability levels taking part. Across the room there might be students working individually, next to a third area where a small group of five or six pupils works closely with a teacher. Students in the first group learn empathy and communication by working with peers; others learn self-management by studying individually, while the students working with the teacher learn how to assess their own abilities and ask for help when necessary. The change can be achieved without adding new resources or substantially changing the academics being taught, d'Entremont said.

By reinforcing social-emotional skills through all grade levels, schools can help youngsters grow into adults who are less impulsive, less prone to substance abuse and crime, and better able to make friends and communicate their feelings. In the workplace or in college, those skills mean better critical thinking and an ability to collaborate in the workplace.

“That's often what they're looking for, far more than technical skills,” D'Entremont said.

Melissa Maguire, Monomoy's Director of Student Services, is chairing the district's social-emotional learning steering committee. She said the district is committed to building bridges with all members of the community.

“We understand that students in the 21st century experience social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that may impact their ability to learn and reach their potential” in areas like self-awareness and responsible decision-making, she said. The district will work with administrators, teachers, staff members, families and school committee members to create learning environments that foster these skills, Maguire said.

“We believe that when children feel safe and recognized in the classroom and school environment, they can excel academically, socially and emotionally. This provides a foundation for a lifetime of learning and positive contributions to their community,” she said.

School districts were chosen to take part in the network not only on the merits of their applications, but also to represent a mixture of different school systems: large and small, urban and rural, high performing and struggling, D'Entremont said. Also in the network are the Brockton, Canton, Fitchburg, Mendon-Upton, Millbury, Milton, Tri-town and Whitman-Hanson districts. Each school system is asked to pledge $5,000 toward the effort, with additional support coming from the state school organizations and the nonprofit partners.

Key to the program is having measurable outcomes, D'Entremont said.

“There will be close attention paid to collecting and analyzing data,” he said. Ideally, the districts will develop best practices that other school systems can copy, possibly leading to better education policies for all of Massachusetts, D'Entremont said.

“We think that these districts really have an opportunity to be models for the state,” he said.