School Views: The importance of social-emotional learning

Philip Qualman
School Views

Eagle County School District values the social-emotional wellness of students. Strong social-emotional health enables individuals to understand and integrate thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a way that supports greater well-being in life.

Philip Qualman

Since March 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become even more important. Eagle County School District is working to implement one of two programs in every school to guide this work. One program, Second Step, includes units on goal-setting and anti-bullying, among others. The second program, 7 Mindsets, promotes things like accountability, gratitude and positive thinking. Schools use whichever program they want, and both are based on universal principles that benefit all of our students.

These ideas, paired with the work of our community partners, guide our efforts and give us a better understanding of our childrens’ needs and provide them the necessary resources to find social-emotional wellness.

Earlier this year, Children’s Hospital of Colorado declared a state of emergency for youth mental health, and that is being felt here in Eagle County as well. Carrie Benway, executive director of Your Hope Center, believes that the numbers of incidents being reported surrounding student mental health will only continue to rise.

It is for that reason that Eagle County School District, Eagle County government and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health have all committed additional funding to Your Hope Center with the end goal of having at least one certified mental health clinician in each of our schools. The additional therapists supplement the work of school counselors by providing one-on-one therapeutic counseling sessions for students at no cost to families.

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In order to help us gauge student mental health, we utilize the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and the Behavior and Emotional Screening System. Both surveys are conducted throughout our schools and any family who chooses not to participate is welcomed to opt out.

It’s not a requirement, but these are powerful tools that help us determine a path forward to best meet the needs of our students. These are reliable, universal social and emotional screening tools for students that provide a fair and impartial way of looking at how they are progressing in their social and emotional development. Screenings can also help identify areas where school staff and parents/guardians can collaborate to improve student success.

Students that can monitor their own emotional health make better citizens, and our partners at Vail Valley Partnership agree. Chris Romer, president and CEO of VVP, appreciates the thoughtful, pragmatic and empathetic approach to education. He specified that the skills included in the social-emotional curriculum prepare students to be critical thinkers and thoughtful members of the community.

The focus on accountability and attitude helps prepare our youth for future workplaces that depend on teamwork and collaboration with customers, coworkers and the public, and he feels it’s an essential role of Eagle County School District to provide this foundation to ensure our students are career-ready and prepared for the future. Erik Williams, VVP’s director of community development, commented specifically around how social-emotional well-being plays into our young adults becoming contributing members to our business community. That’s a topic he’s passionate about and hopes to discuss these issues further as they are so important in developing well-rounded youth.

I understand that teaching reading, writing and arithmetic are essential, but I also firmly believe that it would be short-sighted if we didn’t also make sure that our students are socially and emotionally well.

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