The Sweetwater Union High School District is taking the lead on “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL) and bringing it to new levels for students and staff in the South Bay. By definition, SEL is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.
Three years ago, “The Culture and Climate Committee” in the SUHSD gave birth to the SEL work being done in the district. It began with bringing “restorative practices” into play when handling student behavior situations and essentially creating stronger bonds with students.
“I strongly believe that no other work can be successful at school unless students and staff feel cared for,” said Louise Williamson, AVID and Peer Counseling teacher and Restorative Practices Resource Leader at Hilltop High School. “One of my biggest goals is to work with students to understand the effects of their behavior by creating positive change, facilitate communication between staff and students, and support/train teachers in relationship-building techniques on my campus and throughout the district.”
According to Williamson, the Sweetwater District and SEL team is committed to prioritizing SEL in all schools because when staff focus on the whole child, teach social and emotional skills, and intentionally provide a safe, positive climate where students feel more confident and accepted, teachers have more time to support learning and academic achievement increases.
“As teachers, when we don’t incorporate restorative practices in our day, we throw away hours of instruction and our students don’t feel safe. The same goes with adults,” said Williamson.
Hilltop High School Principal Karen Hernandez is a prime example of incorporating restorative practices during her interaction with school employees. Hernandez begins each staff associated meeting with an SEL guided activity. As a school principal, she deeply believes in the importance of SEL and its benefits to the culture and climate of each person at her site.
Williamson also oversees the “Connect Crew Club” on campus that is comprised of a group of students that assist in helping freshman transition and feel comfortable with high school life. Student lead focus groups are also a huge success on Hilltop High’s campus says Williamson as they build mindfulness in the classroom and help students recognize their angry before they burst out.
Melissa Rains a science teacher at Castle Park Middle is in her third year of having her “Homeroom” class devoted to SEL Development. Rains has implemented SEL activities during professional development days focusing on the diversity in the school site staff and school diversity as a whole.
“My philosophy is unless we support the whole child we can’t expect to meet academic expectations that we set for our students,” said Rains. “Although we may not have the ability to change their problems, we can provide them with inner resources that they can take with them as they grow into adulthood.”
“I teach SEL because I want to prepare young people for life and this is a natural by product,” said Rains. “Approaching teaching with a compassionate lens builds new climate and culture in our classrooms and in our schools and that’s what this movement is all about.”