Social literacy up, social problems down in Chicago Schools

By Anne Collier

More than 50 Chicago schools were recommended for closure this year, but one of the four schools that won’t close isn’t closing because of its strong, successful social-emotional learning program, Education Week reports. Marcus Garvey Elementary School “is recognized for helping children develop empathy and problem-solving skills.” SEL is “problem-solving with dignity,” as teacher-songwriter Tontaneshia Jones of Chicago’s Ella Flagg Young School put it in this video about it produced by Seattle-based Committee for Children.

SELteacherIn 2004, Illinois was the first state to adopt SEL into its academic standards, and it’s clearly paying off because of this and other findings. For example, the number of kids sent to the office for discipline was down 52% in one year since SEL was integrated into classrooms at Myra Bradwell School, its staff social worker Nicole Beck reports, and Sabrina Anderson, vice-principal at Marcus Garvey reports that her school has seen “fewer misconduct reports.” “Students have learned to deal with conflict in a different way – how to talk about it,” she says in the video. What both staff and students are learning through SEL are five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and relationship skills. These have become state education standards as important as those for reading, math or science.

“I think a lot of times people forget that our kids hurt, they have pain, they have issues beyond just school, and in order for us to be effective, we have to teach the entire child,” says kindergarten teacher Joy Price Lewis at Marcus Garvey. And we probably also forget that SEL at school goes home with the students, a benefit that I don’t believe has been measured yet. But here’s what Ella Flagg Young School has found: “Due to SEL training, we’ve seen the respect level rise, we’ve seen how a child can go home and actually change a home,” says its dean of students, Charles Dunlap.

Related links

  • The 2011 study about the benefits of SEL: “Social-emotional learning ups academic performance” <>
  • “Invaluable social-literacy lessons from an anti-bullying conference” <>
  • Committee for Children’s evidence-based SEL and other programs are used in more than 25,000 schools in the US and other countries.

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