CSS engages students in social and emotional learning
Fred Rogers knew the complexities within a child’s mind. His PBS show “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” which spanned three decades, not only dealt with emotions such as sadness and anger but allowed space for children to process them.
In one episode, a boy confides to Mr. Rogers’ tiger puppet that his pet got hit by a car. “That’s scary,” Mr. Rogers/the puppet says. He asks the boy for a hug, and the boy hugs the tiger.
“Children have very deep feelings just the way parents do, just the way everybody does, and our striving to understand those feelings and to better respond to them is what I feel is the most important task in our world,” said Rogers, who died in 2003.
Studies show the ability to identify and work through emotions is key in creating healthy children who in turn become healthy adults. And it’s why The Colorado Springs School promotes social and emotional learning with all students from prekindergarten through Grade 12.
“Empowering kids to talk about their emotions can help them re-center and take their next step forward, socially and academically,” said Aaron Schubach, Head of School at CSS. “It’s helping them navigate their own environment.”
To celebrate Mr. Rogers’ belief in children and the power of kindness, CSS hosted a community screening of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on February 6, 2019. The documentary highlights Rogers’ legacy of teaching children that feelings are “mentionable and manageable.”
CSS adopted Yale University’s RULER program in 2014 to encourage students’ social and emotional learning. Yale research shows that students nationwide who participate in the program experience less stress, better sleep, fewer disciplinary incidents, and do better in school than students who do not.
Social and emotional learning gives students the skill-sets they need to:
Understand and manage their emotions.
Set and achieve positive goals.
Feel and show empathy for others.
Make responsible decisions.
Establish and maintain positive relationships.
Beyond RULER, CSS educators and school counselor incorporate goal-setting, mindfulness, health and wellness, physical activity, and reflections into the student experience.
“At CSS, we incorporate social and emotional learning all day long because that’s part of our philosophy, and it helps students think about how they can be their best selves,” said Caitlin Risk, School Counselor for CSS.
Students learn to better handle daily tasks and challenges by working through the issue. For instance, if there’s a conflict between students, CSS teachers encourage them to not only resolve the matter but to dive deeper by posing questions such as: What happened? How did that make you feel? How do you think it made the other person feel?
“A lot of academic and learning barriers come from students not being able to regulate their emotions or resolve their own conflicts,” Risk said. “We’re creating a culture of come talk it through and ask for help instead of letting conflicts build up.”
Immersing students in a social and emotional learning process throughout their education has a long-term impact, said Rhonda Williams, a counseling and human services professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; she also coordinates the UCCS school counseling program.
“If we’re teaching children these skills early on and in an environment where it’s ongoing, by the time they’re in high school they will have a full perspective of what effective coping skills look like,” Williams said. “It’s lifelong.”
Areas where CSS promotes social and emotional learning include:
Advisory program for all divisions. Students meet with Risk, the school counselor, in small groups to talk through topics such as how to be empathetic, how to break down stereotypes, and what to do if you don’t understand what someone is saying. Risk may have students in Children School draw about specific emotions or show video clips to Middle School students to help them better grasp a topic.
In the fall, she held a workshop with Upper School students about respectful and clear communication. “We talked about how can you make a confrontation with someone and still maintain that friendship,” Risk said. “It’s all about communicating intentionally and thoughtfully rather than just spur of the moment.”
All Middle School and Upper School students are assigned to an advisor, a faculty or staff member with whom they may check in with any time. All CSS students may meet one-on-one with Risk.
Digital portfolios. All CSS students have a Digital Portfolio, a collection of artifacts that illustrate their accomplishments and pivotal learning experiences on their journey through CSS. It can be comprised of text-based, graphics, or multimedia elements. And they are more than a simple collection of a student’s work; they encourage personal reflection and help students become critical thinkers while honing their writing and multi-media communication skills.
A CSS sixth-grader recently reflected on an assignment to draw a map of South America for World Geography class. It took him two weeks to complete. He chose the map for the capacity on Adaptability, Initiative, and Risk-Taking.
“It fits the category I have selected in that it forced me to draw in a less freeform and more structured format,” the student wrote. “I used to draw just what came to mind. It also made me take initiative and not leave projects until the last couple of days. It made me take risks in that when I was inking the map, if I made a mistake, I had to accept the mistake and move on … Before this project, I just picked some random thing and let it develop. Now, I select a structure, and then work on it and develop it.”
A benefit of a Digital Portfolio is that the student may submit it when applying to colleges.
“Colleges are becoming more interested in the total package of a student’s high school experiences. They want to know what a child was capable in the ninth grade and what they grew into by the 12th grade,” said Nicole Goyette, Middle School and Upper School Director at CSS. “The portfolio represents the best-of-the-best work in the student’s eyes, and therefore is meant to be a reflection of who they are as a learner and a community member.”
Experiential learning: camping trips, expeditions, and Experience-Centered Seminars (ECS). CSS students learn not only inside the classroom but outside as well — and social and emotional learning is integrated into those experiences. Curriculum-based trips begin in kindergarten and are designed to teach academic principles and life lessons through firsthand experience.
In the fall, for example, third-graders spent the night in cabins in Divide, Colorado. In the spring they embark on a Colorado Expedition to John Martin Reservoir, where they tent camp for two nights and visit Bent’s Old Fort to learn more about life along the Santa Fe Trail during the early days.
Upper School students travel throughout Colorado, the U.S. and the world. Each March, students participate in an Experience Centered Seminar, a three-week course of study chosen from a wide variety of seminar offerings, including studying biodiversity on the island of Madagascar to tackling the complexities of homelessness in the Pikes Peak Region to learning how developers can use virtual reality to solve problems of the modern world.
During these trips and seminars, our students build self-awareness, learn how to take care of themselves and others, and engage in making responsible decisions, team building, and effective communication.
Hannah G. ‘19 said she has grown substantially from her ECS experiences. Her first seminar was in Mexico as a freshman, and it was the first time traveling outside of the country without her parents. She’s also been to New Mexico and Peru for seminars. This March, she’s going to Madagascar to study biodiversity.
“A lot of times, an ECS puts you outside of your comfort zone, and you have to figure it out without the help of your parents,” Hannah said. “I learned self-dependance and how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Research shows it’s imperative that students are continuously exposed to social and emotional learning for it to have the greatest impact, which is why CSS promotes it across the board.
“We believe in the holistic development of the child, and we want our graduates to reflect that and have emotional intelligence,” Risk said. “That also translates into the career world: being able to have those soft skills, building relationships, being able to network, being able to handle feedback in a healthy way, as well as having healthy relationships for the rest of your life.”