Ed officials hope social-emotional training will help challenging student behaviors

Published: Nov. 4, 2021 at 6:09 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The state has launched a new program for parents and educators to help students struggling with emotional or mental health issues in the wake of the pandemic.

Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is a key component of the state’s COVID education recovery framework. School districts this fall were required to present and implement a plan for teachers to incorporate SEL curriculum in the classroom.

“We knew as part of our recovery plan that these skills would be really critical, just given the nature of the pandemic -- the isolation of the pandemic, the remote learning of the pandemic,” said Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey. She says while each district was initially tasked with developing its own proposals, the state is now offering another option.

Using COVID emergency funds, the education agency contracted a company to create a free virtual platform called SEL4 Vermont. Users can find interactive lessons focused on the five core aspects of SEL, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making. Both parents and teachers have access to different topics and can assign students modules designed for their grade level -- K through 12.

“We’re really excited about that because we know also that the best way for students to do well is to have continuity with what’s happening in the classroom and then what’s happening at home,” Bouchey said.

The resource comes at a crucial time. Over the last few weeks, issues among dysregulated students have been on the rise. The state says it doesn’t yet have data on the number and nature of behavior-related interventions, suspensions, and expulsions, but Bouchey says the administration is hearing about the increase anecdotally. “What we would call externalizing behaviors, so they’re acting out, they’re getting physical, they’re being disrespectful,” she said.

Bouchey says Vermont’s paraeducator and support staff shortage also plays a part in the problem. She hopes SEL will build a better learning environment to help all struggling children cope.

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