Officials with the Ysleta ISD say, in light of research that shows social-emotional skills are critical for healthy student development, they have implemented a new Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum that provides an extra layer of support for students in their transition back to in-person learning.
“Ysleta ISD strongly believes in the importance of educating the whole child, and that’s why SEL is a priority for us,” said Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools Dr. Catherine Kennedy.
“Research has shown the benefits of SEL include improvement in social emotional skills, attitudes, relationships, and academic performance. When it comes to SEL, everyone at Ysleta ISD plays an important role.”
With considerable input over the past year from a districtwide committee made up of parents, staff, counselors, faculty, and administrators, Ysleta ISD launched a new Kindness in the Classroom curriculum this fall that is being integrated into every campus, from pre-K through high school.
The idea is to help students acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to manage emotions, achieve personal goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions, among others.
This is particularly important in the wake of the pandemic that prompted school shutdowns and quarantines that have contributed to an increase in mental health concerns among children.
The Kindness in the Classroom curriculum, which features monthly themes of respect, caring, inclusiveness, integrity, responsibility, and courage, is endorsed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), a national nonprofit group formed in 1994 that aims to establish high-quality, evidence-based SEL as an essential part of education.
At Ysleta ISD, the curriculum features 30-minute weekly lessons for pre-K through eighth grades, and biweekly lessons for grades 9-12 – delivered through a technology platform called Nearpod – that address the five core competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
District officials add that the lessons are aligned with the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Character Traits, and support the district’s dual-language and bilingual classrooms in pre-K through third grade.
With an SEL Campus Team at every school that meets to support implementation of Kindness in the Classroom, professional development is an essential factor in the district’s success, officials said.
“All teachers have attended SEL professional development, and it has expanded across groups to include administrators, counselors, tutors, instructional specialists, librarians and P.E. coaches,” said Guidance & Counseling Director Celina Muñoz. “Training is also provided for parents as we work to collaborate with families and community partners beyond the explicit lessons.”
In addition, the curriculum encourages Kindness Projects, which involve campuses coming together as learning communities to plan projects that include community service.
SEL surveys are also being administered throughout the school year to monitor the impact of the SEL curriculum and practices and assist campus faculty to identify areas of strength or need, officials said.