Saugus superintendent proposes more focus on SEL

Students at an elementary school in Santa Clarita walk to their classrooms on the first day of school in Aug. 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Superintendent Colleen Hawkins of Saugus Union School District proposed having more time dedicated to social and emotional learning in classrooms each week, at the district’s recent board meeting.

Hawkins, in her proposal to the district board Tuesday night, used Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which details how a person has basic psychological and self-fulfilment needs in order to be successful, to show how the achievement gap in students can possibly be closed.

“For the last five months, we’ve been struggling as an organization with needs that our students have come to school with this year, and with the demands that places on our classroom teachers,” said Hawkins.

Student behavior has been a concern that teachers have spoken to the district about. Hawkins said there’s been a struggle with children managing emotions, staying focused on tasks and paying attention for specific periods of time.

“Culturally, in the younger generation there’s more technology, which results in disengagement with their peers,” said Monica Dedhia, program manager of access crisis and community engagement for the SCV Child & Family Center. “Social-emotional learning can teach children how to regulate emotions.”

To combat negative student behavior and improve student achievement, Hawkins proposed having two hours per week set aside for social and emotional learning activities, which can include art projects, board games or class meetings.

“I’m going to ask our teachers and principals to encourage this on school sites,” said Hawkins. “We’re going to focus on social and emotional learning over our academic learning.”

Dedhia said having social and emotional learning activities in classrooms can benefit a younger student more than a high school student, and can combat anxiety and depression as children grow.

“It’s hard to talk to (kids) about feelings,” said board President Julie Olsen. “They have so much going on, and what I’ve come to learn is, they all just want and need to be seen for who they are, and with all the demands, academic and social, it’s creating stress and pressure, and we’re seeing a negative impact.”

The board of trustees unanimously agreed some type of social-emotional learning needed to be implemented in classrooms, which will go under further discussion by Hawkins, the board, principals and teachers.

“When you start working with a child, you learn what their emotional intelligence level is. Encouraging this type of learning can teach kids how to put words to their emotions, you teach them an emotional vocabulary,” Dedhia said.

Hawkins said as discussions with administrators and teachers happen, they will decide how to adjust the curriculum to include time for social-emotional learning activities without cutting out state standard lessons.

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