Canal Winchester schools: District focuses on social, emotional learning programs

Jack McLaughlin
ThisWeek
Indian Trail Elementary

Online instruction in place because of COVID-19 coronavirus restrictions has given Canal Winchester Local Schools a chance to use its social and emotional learning programs at Indian Trail Elementary School.

“Research shows that students who are provided with social and emotional learning supports do better academically, socially and behaviorally,” said Susan Kirkpatrick, who teaches social and emotional learning at Indian Trail Elementary. 

Beth Hinshaw, a counselor at the school, agreed. 

“Social and emotional development is just as important as math and reading, and oftentimes our students can’t access the subjects that they need to learn unless these things are addressed,” Hinshaw said. 

SEL activities can come in many forms. At Indian Trail, first- and second-graders spend 40 minutes a week on such things as keeping journals so they can become more self-aware and better at expressing their emotions and small-group sessions where they talk about how much they appreciate their classmates or – when necessary – apologize to them. Officials said doing this helps sharpen meaningful social exchanges. 

Some lessons focus on helping students cope with their emotions by creating “emotion management wheels.”

The emotion management wheels work by having students write a list of emotions they feel as well as a list of coping strategies for these emotions that they’ve learned. When a student feels a certain way, he or she can consult the wheel and have a list of coping strategies.

As part of making SEL activities available online to more students, the district has implemented the use of “virtual peace rooms,” a program created by Kirkpatrick. 

When in-person learning is underway, physical peace rooms are used at Indian Trail. Kirkpatrick described them as quiet, safe spaces where students can go to center themselves emotionally and to reflect on their feelings.

Virtual peace rooms are available at a web page that features different depictions of physical spaces that students choose from. These peace rooms are lined with interactive books students can read, or they can simply take in the calming atmosphere of the room in order to better regulate their own emotional states. 

Kevin Butler, board of education vice president, said these online peace rooms work wonders.  

“I was working with my son today – he’s one of the Canal Winchester Online Learning Academy students – but he really took advantage of it,” Butler said. “And it’s something really nice that he has access to, especially with the Chromebooks now, so I thought that was a really nice piece when they get frustrated at home. I hadn’t seen that before and thought that was really innovative.” 

Kirkpatrick and Henshaw are working together to create SEL resources linked to the district’s Portrait of a Graduate program, which is used to develop a list of skills and attributes Canal Winchester students need in order to be successful after they graduate from high school. 

“I was excited when I saw Portrait of a Graduate because it aligns with the social and emotional competencies we’ve been using at Indian Trail,” Henshaw said. “We created a website; we just wanted to have a hub where teachers and other educators in the building as well as our families in the community could go and see what we’re doing to prepare students for life after graduation.” 

The site links to descriptions of each “pillar” highlighted by Portrait of a Graduate (being a respectful citizen, problem-solving, self-awareness, responsible learning, collaboration and communication), as well as to the SEL competencies used by Henshaw and Kirkpatrick from the American School Counselors Association Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success and several other groups. 

Collecting and listing all this information in one place allows all district teachers the ability to instruct students in the tenets of SEL being used at Indian Trail. 

Superintendent James Sotlar said the district’s goal is to eventually offer SEL activities to students throughout their entire time at Canal Winchester Schools, beginning in kindergarten. 

“These are our youngest kids in the district being used to talk about life after high school,” he said. “However, these are the basic building blocks, the foundation, that is going to lead to that life after high school. If we can continue this and make it strong at Indian Trail, move on to Winchester Trail, to the middle school and then the high school,12 to 13 years of Portrait of Graduate along with the social and emotional learning, hopefully we’re going to have very productive kids as they leave.”

editorial@thisweeknews.com 

@ThisWeekNews