While education shifts and changes, the role of an educator remains the same at its core. A teacher’s job, of course, is to teach.
In the years following the COVID-19 pandemic, though, it’s become apparent that schools might need to teach more than just typical subject matter. They have to teach kids about social-emotional learning (SEL), too.
“Rather than just assuming that they learned those skills elsewhere, a school’s responsibility is to teach things to students, and this has become one of those things that we should be explicitly teaching to students,” said Renee Kozusko, the Steel Valley School District’s Director of Pupil Services.
“That makes it extremely important to teach these students at the younger grade levels, so that we can hopefully prevent these difficulties as the kids get older.”
According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” In simplest terms, SEL is about being able to regulate and identify emotions and behaviors, a key skill not just within schooling, but life in general.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a universal increased need for SEL attention in school due to the lack of socialization many students had while spending a greater amount of time at home. Partly, that was the impetus for the Steel Valley School District to purchase Satchel Pulse, an SEL curriculum across the K-12 grade levels. Satchel Pulse was purchased through Project SEEKS SES, a grant partnership between the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU) and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) that addresses trauma, behavior and mental health issues in ten school districts.
Steel Valley underwent a rigorous process to choose the best SEL curriculum for them, asset mapping their strengths and needs, and attending the AIU’s SEL day, which included a vendor fair of 14 vendors, including Satchel Pulse.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in behaviors and emotional dysregulation, so there was a need to look at some supports and services to help kids understand their own feelings and themselves, as well as understand social interactions and how their own feelings, emotions and behaviors affect others,” said Kozusko.
“For so long we had to stay isolated and not be around people, and some of our very young students had no opportunity to interact with other students and adults to help teach them some of these social skills in preschool, kindergarten or elementary school.”
Since Kozusko started in her position last year, she said many staff members have told her how students in the K-2 grade levels have shown decreased abilities to control their behaviors. Additionally, Kozusko said that middle school students have a special need for SEL attention, as students at those grade levels are often going through crucial changes and gaining independence.
While Steel Valley is still working on the Satchel Pulse rollout, they’ve begun key steps, first going over integration training with each district building’s lead implementation team. The next step is rolling out universal screening for teachers to complete, so that the district can identify students’ strengths and needs.
“We essentially purchased the whole package. We’ll be able to do universal screenings, we’ll be able to have access to more of the whole classroom type of interventions and supports, as well as more targeted supports for students that are experiencing a little more need,” said Kozusko.
Kozusko is especially excited about the universal screening element of Satchel Pulse, which allows the district to access students in a much quicker, more comprehensive manner. Based on data provided by both students and teachers, Satchel Pulse groups students based on their SEL needs.
“As educators, our time is very short to be able to do things like that, so having an automated system to do that is an added benefit,” Kozusko said.
As the district implements Satchel Pulse, Kozusko looks forward to seeing how it impacts students in the years to come. As students become more attuned with their emotions and how to regulate them, learning and thriving becomes that much easier, Kozusko said.
“Teaching those skills early will only help them through their entire educational career and their entire life," she said.