South Elementary School seeks to educate the “whole child” with social emotional learning

By Zach Armstrong

PRINCE GEORGE, Va -- At a recent school board meeting, Julie Connolly, assistant principal, and Erica Hahn, guidance counselor, presented to the board about how South Elementary School has a vision and belief in educating the “whole” child.

“Everybody including our students have been through some trauma related to COVID and students really need to have their minds in the right place before they learn so we are trying to make sure they are OK emotionally as well as physically,” said South Elementary Principal Susan Braswell.

The mission of implementing social emotional learning techniques utilized by teachers is so students can have emotional support in the learning environment by having healthy relationships with teachers. Teachers are encouraged to reach out and engage with students they believe are struggling emotionally.

The school also introduced mood meters designed by an art teacher. Students can use them to shift their moods daily from green, yellow or red depending on how they are feeling that day. If a student has a rough day and moves their meter to red, the teacher is signaled that they need to check on the child.

“You can tell things about a student’s behavior if they act differently than they did in the past, they aren’t as engaged, they’re acting out,” said Braswell. “We're about to get more students back again, and they haven’t been around other students or teachers for a while but a lot of them came in very excited, while others came in and they were withdrawn,” said Braswell.

The school presented a video created by ITRT Blair Sammler and Braswell to the board that showed that they are teaching social emotional learning and engaging students through values such as respectful learning, establishing trust, involving students, empathy, responsibility, gratitude, affirmation, conflict resolution, perseverance, positive characteristics and behaviors.

“By using techniques making sure we are checking in then that definitely has an impact on student’s performances. There's an old saying that kids don’t learn from people they don’t like so we need to build relationships,” said Braswell. “Once those relationships are built then students want to learn from you and perform well for you. In my mind it's pretty clear that what we're doing here is working.”