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New social emotional/equity learning classes implemented in D65 schools

Dawes Elementary, 440 Dodge Ave. District 65 schools introduced new social-emotional and equity learning classes this fall.

Dawes Elementary, 440 Dodge Ave. District 65 schools introduced new social-emotional and equity learning classes this fall.

(Daily file photo by Jeffrey Wang)

(Daily file photo by Jeffrey Wang)

Dawes Elementary, 440 Dodge Ave. District 65 schools introduced new social-emotional and equity learning classes this fall.

Kristina Karisch, Web Editor

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Evanston/Skokie School District 65 has introduced new classes for its elementary students designed to reinforce principles of social emotional/equity learning.

The classes, which were developed by a team of District 65 teachers and social workers over the summer, will teach skills in six areas: learning, empathy, emotion management, problem solving, bullying prevention and child protection.

“We know that if children don’t feel safe, they don’t feel comfortable, they aren’t regulated in their school environment, they cannot absorb knowledge,” said Candance Chow, a District 65 board member. “Kids have to feel like the classroom is an extension of their home. That’s when the best comes out of them.”

The new classes will meet once a week during the same time that students would attend art or drama classes on other days, Chow said. Students in kindergarten, first grade and fourth grade will take the SEEL classes, while children in second, third and fifth grade will attend computer science classes instead. Having the course will also free up time for teachers of core classes to plan lessons, she added.

Chow and District 65 board president Sunith Kartha both said the district had been implementing social emotional learning policies for a few years, but only this year made them into a concrete curriculum.

In 2014, the district created a five-year strategic plan, which is being implemented from 2015-2020. The plan said District 65 will seek to “incorporate instruction on social and emotional competencies into the academic curriculum.”

“The social and emotional development of our students will not only better prepare them for college, careers, and life, but also have an impact on positive climate in District 65 schools,” the plan said.

The SEEL classes will follow a social emotional learning program called Second Step, which was developed by the Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization that creates programs for schools. The program provides teachers with resources to implement social emotional learning in their classrooms.

Through Second Step, “students gain skills to help themselves learn, including how to focus their attention, listen carefully, use self-talk to stay on task, and be assertive when asking for help with schoolwork,” according to District 65’s website.

The District 65 curriculum builds on the Second Step program by also emphasizing equity, Kartha said. Though equity had always been integrated in the district’s policies and was included in the strategic plan, Kartha said district leaders decided they should be more explicit in mentioning its importance in schools.

“It came out of a realization that … if we’re going to have children be able to navigate their world, part of that is going to be understanding that things aren’t always fair,” Kartha said. “For some of these issues of equity, adults are still trying to figure out how to have these conversations. What we’re figuring out is that it’s really important to have these kinds of conversations earlier on.”

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch