Despite pandemic, Social Emotional Learning continues in Bethel

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed virtually every aspect of our lives, from how we interact with each other to how we educate our children.

These are trying times, and it’s more important than ever that students have the tools and resources to safely address their feelings and emotions. That’s exactly why our district is committed to offering the best, most impactful Social Emotional Learning resources possible.

Social Emotional Learning is all about giving students the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage their emotions. It helps them achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Last year our school board formally adopted a new Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum for elementary and middle schools, and our teachers and social workers spent the year giving students the foundational knowledge to use the curriculum.

One way they used it was through “circles,” which involved bringing classes together in a circle several times a week to go over a variety of topics, from how to solve a math problem to how to resolve a personal conflict.

BMS students take part in a circle exercise last year.

Now that classes are online, teachers have had to tweak their formula to continue offering the valuable exercise.

Bethel Middle School Principal Schultz-Bartlett said her teachers have been using advisory time several times a week to host virtual circles with students.

“Our circles employ the chat feature of Zoom for simple quick responses, and gives all students an equal chance to provide their voice. Some students also unmute or turn on their video to share their views,” said Schultz-Bartlett. “We’ve had to adapt our strategies, but the goal remains to connect with every student and build a community of learners.”

Younger students are also continuing with their Social Emotional Learning. Two years ago, Spanaway Elementary School opened an in-school “Wellness Center” to support students who are having strong, distracting emotions in the classroom. The space allowed them to regroup in a calm, supportive environment.

Spanaway Elementary Counselor Jennifer Goble, who helped build the school’s Wellness Center, spent the summer designing a virtual Wellness Center to offer students, teachers, and parents many of the same resources and tools. Goble is now helping teachers get acclimated to the virtual center.

“We also have a Wellness Center Facebook page where we share resources such as ‘how to avoid power struggles with kids’ or information about the Bethel Family Center, food support, etc.” Goble said.

Camilla Fredrikson, who teaches first grade at Spanaway Elementary, is already using several resources in her Social Emotional Learning toolkit. She admits the move to distance learning hasn’t always been easy from a SEL standpoint, but she says her students have been receptive and responsive to the changes.

“It is definitely a lot of work, but it feels like I have had the opportunity to make more connections with families, in more meaningful ways, in a shorter amount of time,” Fredrikson said.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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