When school buildings across South Carolina closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the impact went beyond academics. The class of 2020 was stripped of prom and the full celebration of graduation, and high school athletes competing in spring sports were stripped of their opportunities to shine athletically.

Students in elementary and middle school transition grades, along with family members who were excited to see their loved ones promoted to middle and high school, also lost the opportunity to celebrate such occasions. The impact placed a strain on social and emotional health which continues to impact students and families. Now more than ever, we realize that our students need social and emotional support in addition to the authentic and engaging academic learning experiences that we—and they—have grown accustomed to. Schools must be preventive and proactive in addressing the core competencies of social and emotional learning (SEL).

SEL and The Core Competencies
SEL is an integral part of schools, and our state’s department of education requires school districts to assess students’ social and emotional health. According to CASEL, SEL has five core competencies that focus on intrinsic and extrinsic growth, as well as cognitive proficiency, including:

  • Relationships
  • Responsible decision-making
  • Self-management
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness

SEL is particularly relevant given growing disparities throughout the country. A wide percentage of families have had to make tough decisions involving providing childcare for their children. We also see the disparities in technology access continuing beyond the pandemic, including some school districts being unable to provide their students with access to electronic devices as well as the hard truth of some families not having access to WIFI networks, and the lack of connectivity options in rural parts of our state.

It Takes Everybody
Our schools and districts focused on incorporating SEL into the curriculum as students returned to the classroom. As part of the Reopening Schools Taskforce in Richland School District Two, four committees were established and led by district-level administrators, with school-level subcommittees focusing on the specific needs of each school. Public health and safety was one of the four committees, charged with ensuring the physical and emotional health and safety of all school partners. At Ridge View High School, our public health and safety subgroup separated the physical and social emotional components in hopes of more intentionally focusing on the social emotional well-being of students, faculty, and staff. Ridge View’s SEL committee included teachers, support staff, administrators, and members of the Learning Support Services division (referred to as LSS), as well as school counselors, the school psychologist, social worker, and career development facilitators.

Multiple Tiers of Support
Working together, this committee developed a comprehensive SEL plan, with a tiered approach to ensure meeting all students’ needs. Tier 1 activities include classroom lessons, schoolwide events, data collection, and establishing a presence on social media focused on SEL. Students receive a check-in form monthly, which the LSS team monitors to offer appropriate intervention strategies. Teachers can also refer students for intervention when they notice incongruences in students’ behavior or academic progress.

The second tier, commonly referred to as Tier 2, is more targeted and includes individual counseling sessions, classroom observations of students, suspension and behavior conferences, small group support, and parent teacher conferences. Tier 2 also affords collaboration meetings between LSS and school administrators to discuss student data, student progress, and interventions. The collaboration meetings help ensure that administrators and LSS team members know what’s going on with individual students on each team member’s caseload. It has proven to be an effective practice for the administrator who handles discipline to know what barriers students are facing. Knowing individual student obstacles, administrators serve as liaisons between the school, students, and their families, with a focus on supporting students to realize successful outcomes.

Tier 3 is the most acute stage of Ridge View’s SEL plan, as it encompasses special services through referrals to the intervention assistance team, which includes members of the LSS team, teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Referrals to the intervention assistance team can lead to establishing a 504 or individualized education program (IEP) for students. Tier 3 may also include referrals to the following services:

  • Richland Two Student Services
  • School social worker
  • Department of Social Services
  • School psychologist
  • Military family life counselor
  • Family Intervention Services
  • Columbia Area Mental Health
  • Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council
  • Other services as needed by students and families

Lessons Learned
To maximize the effectiveness of your school’s SEL program, it is paramount to include all school partners. While all schools are unique, the obligation to address the social emotional needs of students is not. The school and district highlighted in this post are considered exemplars across the state and serve as models for schools in the development stages of building their SEL programs.

To learn more about Ridge View’s SEL plan, review our school’s presentation from NPC21 here.

1 Comment

  • Ceci says:

    This is a great and useful article, we know that we face many challenges such as chronic absenteeism as a result of this COVID 19 pandemic. However, that is not the most challenging problem we face in our schools, because how can we ask a student to come to school and attends all his classes if he faces anxiety or depression? (whether because one of the family members died, was deported, lives in a dysfunctional family, abuse, neglect, etc.), I know that students’ mental illnesses are not new, Nevertheless, because of what we are living in today (COVID-19) these problems are more intense and are affecting more students/families, making it difficult for them to come to school and concentrate on their classes. If we want to attack the problem of absenteeism, we must focus our attention first on the mental health of our students, otherwise, it will be an already lost battle.

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