Originally published March 12, 2019 in Oswego County Today.
The implementation of social-emotional learning programs throughout the Fulton City School District has catapulted students’ sense of belonging.
Lanigan first grade teacher Samantha Finocchiaro leads a social-emotional learning lesson with her students, all of whom have become better connected with their emotions, thanks to the district’s implementation of the Second Steps curriculum.
As the district works toward its goal of having 90 percent of its students feel welcomed and part of their school, FCSD Director of Student Support Services Geri Geitner said students in grades kindergarten through 12 have become more equipped with the knowledge and tools to further develop their SEL skills and put them into practice.
FCSD designed the full complement of SEL opportunities to include a progression of skills for students in grades K-6, as they learn to recognize and manage their emotions in healthy ways, foster positive relationships with peers and adults and set goals for the future.
Students in grades 7-12 have learned how to apply SEL skills learned.
Data will be collected so the district can track student success and provide additional supports.
For 20 minutes per day, the district’s youngest students learn about empathy, emotion management, problem-solving and various related skills.
Sixth graders have learned about mindset and goals, values and friendship, emotions and related decisions and serious peer pressure.
There are upcoming opportunities to provide skills reinforcement, re-teaching and interventions as needed, based on assessments. Geitner said the short-term impact will include: self-efficiency, senses of belonging and purpose, reduce risky behaviors and emotional destress and improve academic performance.
The long-term impact is college and career readiness, healthy adult relationships and positive mental health.
Lanigan Elementary School first grade teacher Samantha Finocchiaro said the Second Step program has been a wonderful and important addition to her classroom this school year.
Her students watch videos on the week’s SEL theme, discuss topics and put the lessons into practice. She said learning about feelings and emotions has been eye-opening for her students, who all have become more self-aware and expressive.
One of her students, Kyleigh Miller, said she has enjoyed learning about emotions and feelings.
With the help of Finocchiaro, she created a feelings folder where she checks in with her emotions and has developed self-control. She also created a breathing chart to calm herself.
“Sometimes I think I need it, but not all the time,” she said.
Finocchiaro said the bonus is she can use the SEL language throughout the day, across all core academic areas. Caitlin Toleno, GRB school counselor, said she has seen similar positive reactions at the high school since the implementation of the Positivity Project this school year. Groups of students, he said, who haven’t felt involved before are now better immersed in the school community.
GRB has become more than just a place to learn; it’s becoming a well-rounded student neighborhood.
The Positivity Project was designed to help students learn how to better apply SEL skills learned.
There are over 100 student project ambassadors who teach mini SEL lessons to their peers. Hearing the message from peers, Toleno said, has been powerful versus the traditional teacher-to-student lesson.
Sophomores Samantha McRae and MacKenzie Treneer are just two of the ambassadors and both have said they see the positive momentum happening at their school.
“I think it’s also bringing our school spirit back slowly,” McRae said. “It’s increased the students’ ability to have a brighter look on their studies.”
Toleno said the high school is hopeful it will continue to build up the momentum that the Positivity Project has brought to the student population.
Meanwhile, Geitner said all the SEL momentum perfectly pairs with the district’s ongoing Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports initiative: tier 1 includes the teaching tools, tier 2 includes having targeted interventions and tier 3 includes intensive or individual interventions and community/school collaborations.
FCSD’s efforts also fall directly in line with the New York State Every Student Succeeds Ac, which states that districts must ensure that all students have access to support for their social-emotional well-being to improve academic achievement, improve school climate and increase educational equity.