On Target articles report on the progress of the 2017 Strategic Plan. This article focuses on Strategic Imperative #7 - Student Health/Wellness and Preparation for Life.
Annunciation Orthodox School is proudly “the school for hearts and minds.” As educators, we understand that unless we have our students’ hearts, we cannot reach their minds. This translates into the connections we make with our students and how we nurture them socially and emotionally as we challenge them academically to achieve their greatest potential. In an effort to strengthen and affirm this commitment, the AOS Board of Trustees adopted a five-year strategic plan in May 2017 that included “Student Health/Wellness and Preparation for Life” as one of the seven major focuses. As such, in August 2017, AOS hired two full-time psychologists, Drs. Jacqueline Jaffe and Ivy Ruths, to serve as Lower School and Middle School Counselors, respectively. Drs. Jaffe and Ruths have worked diligently to address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of the students, parents, faculty, and staff. This year, as point persons for the student health and wellness strategic imperative, they are continuing their work in fostering a culture of social and emotional wellness by addressing the rationales of this imperative:
- To preserve and enhance the positive and nurturing environment that fosters well-being and growth
- To maximize personal, academic, physical, and spiritual growth and development
- To reduce and manage stress and anxiety among all constituents
An initial aim of this strategic imperative is to have a school-wide curriculum that encourages important social-emotional skills such as grit, resilience, empathy, balance, perseverance, and leadership qualities. As a means to these ends, a special focus has been placed on the importance of a structured, integrated curriculum to support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is essential to the overall long-term success of our students. Having a strong social-emotional competency grants students the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to help them understand and manage emotions, to achieve goals, to make responsible decisions, to feel and show empathy, and to establish and maintain healthy relationships. It helps students build resilience, manage stress, improve interactions with peers, and gain confidence as learners. Research shows that SEL increases prosocial behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy), improves student attitudes toward school, reduces depression and stress, and, on average, improves achievement by 11 percent (Durlak et al., 2011).
The five key skills of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Long-term benefits of high competency in SEL skills include an increase in readiness for postsecondary education, career success, positive family and work relationships, better overall mental health, reduced criminal behavior, and engaged citizenship (Hawkins, Kosterman, Catalano, Hill, & Abbott, 2008; Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). After diligent research and consideration, and in an effort to “formalize faculty and parent education to teach and model the skills of stress management and anxiety reduction,” AOS has adopted Second Step, a schoolwide SEL curriculum for Prekindergarten through eighth grade. Second Step provides specific, age-appropriate instruction for SEL and focuses on developing skills for learning, empathy, emotional management, building and maintaining friendships, and problem-solving. In addition to classroom lessons, Second Step also involves families through weekly Home Link activities. Second Step is recommended by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which researches and rates evidence-based SEL curricula. Second Step has been evaluated in multiple randomized and quasi-experimental studies where students have been followed over the course of up to two years. According to CASEL, the evaluation of the Second Step outcomes indicate increased positive social behavior, reduced conduct problems, reduced emotional distress, and improved social and emotional skill performance.
Second Step will be fully implemented by the Prekindergarten through eighth-grade teachers over the course of three years. Currently, middle school students have started Second Step lessons in their advisory classrooms, and lower school faculty will begin integrating the program after the Christmas holidays. Drs. Jaffe and Ruths anticipate a successful execution of this effort in compliance with goals set forward by the strategic plan, and they look forward to the feedback from families, faculty, and staff.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of The Delphian.