We believe that the social and emotional well-being of all our students is a prerequisite of effective learning. The values of integrity, kindness, respect, civility, and caring for others infuse daily life at ACDS and form the foundation for our work together as a community. One simply has to walk into a classroom or see students interacting with one another at recess or in the hallway to feel the nurturing and supportive climate. Our students are safe physically and emotionally, and consequently, they are able to undertake their best learning. Teachers develop the social-emotional skills of our students through specific curriculum and instruction, integration of social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts in the general curriculum, and reinforcement of SEL skills throughout daily interactions inside and outside the classroom. These ideas are formalized through the Responsive Classroom approach in the Lower School and an advisory program in the Middle School that is rooted in the Developmental Designs program.
Lower School students begin their day with a morning meeting in which all the children greet one another by name and take part in an activity in which they develop a certain social skill or learn more about their peers. These sessions enable students to practice meaningful social interaction, establish norms for civil discourse, build relationships with their peers and teachers, and practice behaviors that enhance the learning environment for all.
In the Middle School, students are assigned an advisor and meet with their small Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) group of approximately ten students first period each morning. Based on the Developmental Designs program and our own curriculum, CPR periods are carefully designed to give students and teachers opportunities to engage in conversations and activities that build character and community. Together, students and teachers explore topics relevant to their lives and their school community, including friendships, health, effective learning habits, ethics, social justice, and service. Dedicating meaningful time each day to these important interactions builds a community that is safe, nurturing, and supportive. These skills are further strengthened through the formal and informal academic and social interactions that occur throughout each day.
Students’ social-emotional development and their sense of community are also fostered through our buddy program in which older students become mentors to their younger peers. Buddies participate in a variety of activities together throughout the year, including service learning projects, holiday activities, field trips, and community-building activities. Younger buddies often share a story they’ve written or project they’ve completed with their older buddy, and delight in seeing their older buddy on stage in a drama production, competing in sports, or testing out their egg car before the Science Fair. Many buddy pairs form close bonds that last well beyond the school year. This program fosters a sense of school community that is evident in happy morning greetings, hugs exchanged in the hallways, and the cheers of supportive friends at performances and athletic events.
Additionally, ACDS has a licensed counselor on staff three days a week to support students individually or in small groups, offer consultation to teachers, and provide guidance for parents as needed.
The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development describes three essential elements of effective social-emotional learning in schools:
- Children and youth are intentionally taught social, emotional, and cognitive skills
- Students are asked to exercise these skills as they learn academic content and in their interaction with peers and adults throughout the day.
- Students have equitable access to learning environments that are physically and emotionally safe and feature meaningful relationships among and between adults and students.
A Nation at Hope, Aspen Institute, National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Available: http://nationathope.org/report-from-the-nation/chapter-1-how-learning-happens/#c1section4.
The SEL program at ACDS addresses all five of the core social-emotional competency clusters identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
✔ Self Awareness
✔ Self Management
✔ Social Awareness
✔ Relationship Skills
✔ Responsible Decision Making