Promoting SEL in Arkansas

SEL in Arkansas

SEL in Arkansas, what is it and why do we need it?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. We at Hot Springs Community School and HeartBridge Learning Lab feel that social and emotional learning, and specifically sel in Arkansas, is not being taught in our public school system. We have become so focused, laser-focused, really, on standardized testing that we have left little room for teaching our students crucial lessons about how they should be interacting socially and emotionally with their peers and with their elders. Students have become apathetic and lazy and dependent in a way that no recent generation has.

Social and emotional skills are critical to our children’s ability to become good students, citizens, and humans in general. Watch the news and you will see our crime rates and drug use among the younger generations is unacceptably high; our dropout and teen pregnancy rates are, as well. Social and emotional education has been proven to reduce these risky behaviors in a way that no government program ever has. Changing their mindset from fixed and closed to that of a growth mindset is vital to changing their lives. Letting them know that they don’t have to continue down that dangerous road, and that they can change their lives for the better, is honestly one of the greatest things we can do as educators. What we want to do in this article is bring attention to the roots of the SEL movement, press for SEL in Arkansas and give readers an introduction into what we are doing at Hot Springs Community School.

Social and emotional learning is a phrase that has really only been around since the 1990s. It evolved from social competency studies done on the concept of emotional intelligence, jumpstarted by David Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. More recent research has led to studies done on how our brain responds to social stimuli, which has found that our brain needs social interaction on the same level as our bodies need food and water. Without it, our behavior and cognitive functions decrease at alarming rates.

To see examples of what happens to our bodies and minds when deprived of social interaction visit this link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200307/the-dangers-loneliness

SEL has made gigantic leaps into the 21st Century. Organizations such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) have taken the research done by psychologists and translated it to the education sector. CASEL’s mission is “to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. Through research, practice, and policy, CASEL collaborates to ensure all students become knowledgeable, responsible, caring, and contributing members of society.” Along with organizations like CASEL, many states have adopted SEL standards for their public school systems. Illinois and Kansas are two of the states with the best SEL standards, and many more state governments are beginning to follow suit. Also, Federal laws have been enacted to research and implement SEL standards in the United States. See: https://casel.squarespace.com/federal-policy-and-legislation/

Arkansas has traditionally been in the bottom third of states (36th this year) in education for many years. We are one of the poorest states, ranking at 44th, and Little Rock recently was named one of the top most dangerous cities in America due to crime. Our mission at Hot Springs Community School, as well as at HeartBridge Learning Lab, is to implement SEL in Arkansas and put our state on the path from mediocrity to exponential growth. We want our students to come out of high school prepared mentally, emotionally, and socially to meet the demands of the 21st Century. We want them to be able to adapt and grow, and we honestly believe that the only way to do this is by implementing a social and emotional learning curriculum. We are in the process of crafting this curriculum, complete with discussion topics and learning activities, that will change our children’s mindsets and give them the necessary life skills to succeed.