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City schools focus on social emotional learning for unique school year

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Posted at 6:25 AM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 07:26:48-04

BALTIMORE, md. — Virtual learning, and now hybrid learning, has been a big adjustment for students and staff all over. In Baltimore City, they've been focusing on expanding their social emotional learning program to really connect with the students.

"Social emotion learning, it has to do with how we interact with each other. If you just focus on academics, you're missing this whole other component of life that is super important," said Joshua Smith, the Student Wholeness Specialist at Moravia Park.

Right now, Baltimore City Public Schools are in a hybrid model. Half of the class is in person and the other half is virtual for two days a week, then they switch. Wednesdays are a small group workday but each class still starts the day together.

Every morning, teachers start with morning affirmations and the zones of regulations to set the tone for the day. The zones of regulations is when a student chooses which zone they're in for the day, either red or green or somewhere in between.

"It's okay to be in the red zone some days. Let's work through it. Let's talk about strategies you can use at home even if we're not in front of you in a classroom," said Caitlyn Brooks, the Principal at Moravia Park Elementary School.

If a student is in the red zone, the teacher engages other students to see how they can help that student get into a different zone! If someone is sleepy, they may suggest jumping jacks to get their blood flowing or if they're stressed, they may suggest some deep breaths.

"This program, it offers us the opportunity to be able to teach a child how to breathe. Just that one thing, breathe. Do yoga. Learn to how to manage their anger. Think about positive affirmations, affirming themselves instead of allowing society or anybody else to tell them who need to be. That is crucial to the betterment of our city and our society," said Smith.

Before the pandemic, Smith had an SEL class for one grade level and would work with individual students, in the wholeness room, who were referred to him. Now, he has a class with all grade levels.
Principal Brooks explained, "one of our goals this year, especially in this unique year, was to see how can we take what was being done in the wholeness room and really spread it out and empower teachers to be able to do it virtually and in person?"

Brooks and Smith really feel that social emotional learning is an important aspect for their students, especially now.

"Could you imagine what that would be like to then step back into school? And step back into a school that you don’t recognize. Shields around the desk. There’s computers. Everybody’s masked up. And all they really want is some engagement and love. We have the responsibility to be able to offer that," said Smith.

For the younger students, Smith does a puppet show called Brother Joshua and the Wholeness Homies. "Through the puppets I’ve been able to address some serious issues," said Smith. He added, "it’s been a good way to talk about heavy things but also allow the children to be children and I think that’s key to what we do here."

The SEL program isn't just for the students, they have programs for the teachers as well.

"For staff to be able to connect and learn practices and best strategies to then take back to their scholars because we feel we have to be whole in order to make sure scholars feel whole," said Principal Brooks.