Originally published Feb. 1, 2021 in the Lowell Sun.
Chelmsford Public Schools recently received $16,000 in two separate grants, one to support social and emotional learning, and another to benefit the physical-education programs at Parker and McCarthy middle schools.
The first grant — $10,000 from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, titled Integrating Social and Emotional Learning into Academic Learning — will help to identify students’ social and emotional learning skill levels and competencies, and determine areas of growth.
As mental health is a pivotal concern in the current climate, both grants will directly and indirectly impact student mental health.
The DESE grant will enable teachers to survey students’ knowledge base according to the five competencies of the CASEL model: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
“Part of the grant is to conduct a social and emotional learning assessment through a survey developed by DESE for all fourth-, fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders to identify students’ knowledge base as far as the CASEL competencies,” said Katie Simes, the Health Education, Physical Education and Family and Consumer Sciences coordinator for Chelmsford Public Schools. “This data will give us an opportunity to identify areas of need and support students to develop these specific skills and competencies within a tiered system of support.”
With a focus on outdoor activity, particularly in the winter months, Simes applied for the Falmouth Road Race grant with the hope of adding snowshoeing to the physical-education curriculum in both the Parker and McCarthy middle schools. Earlier in the year, she was able to purchase enough snowshoes for the high school, but not for both middle schools.
“Our PE teachers love outdoor activity,” Simes said. “I’ve been looking into snowshoeing for the last five years, and I’ve wanted to provide our students with some kind of outdoor lifetime-fitness winter activity that is accessible to all students. We have so much land among our schools, and the winters can seem very long in New England, so it will be a nice addition to our curriculum to be able to take students outside, get some fresh air, and enjoy some snowshoeing while working on their own personal fitness.
She heard from a colleague that the Falmouth Road Race board of directors like to fund opportunities for physical fitness.
“I figured it was worth a shot, but because we’re so far from Falmouth, I wasn’t sure about our chances,” she said. “I was thrilled when I received the letter.”
Chelmsford High students used the snowshoes for the first time in December while the middle schools are expected to receive their snowshoes within two weeks.
“We’re hopeful for more snow in the future to be able to introduce snowshoeing to our second-semester students,” Simes said.