March 26th is worth celebrating for many reasons; it is National Spinach Day, the anniversary of Dr. Jonas Salk announcing the polio vaccine in 1953, and the birthday of famed poet Robert Frost. At Elim, however, March 26th is significant because it signifies International SEL Day. Naturally, a topic as vital as Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should merit its own day.
Social Workers Noelle Hirsch, Sarah Evans, and Gale Nienhuis explain the importance of SEL and how it is used throughout the Bridges, Crossroads, and Pathways programs to fully support students’ needs.
Before delving any deeper, it is essential for our social workers to define SEL. Noelle from Bridges and Crossroads explains as “An extremely important part of a student’s all-around functioning” continuing that it entails “The necessary skills to do things like manage emotions and navigate different social situations and how to interact and participate in the environment around us.” In the Pathways program, Gale commented that SEL is “Communication and understanding how someone is feeling or expressing themselves, and our kids struggle with how they’re feeling themselves.”
Adults take it for granted that social communication has come naturally and their emotions are clearly understood, but for many of Elim’s students these are skills that have to be taught by trained professionals. Sarah pointed out how SEL is woven into the very fabric of the Pathways program “Social work is inclusive to the Pathways program… it’s something that all our students need down here.” The social workers at Elim strive to ensure that SEL remains a focal point of instruction so that students are able to develop to their fullest potential.
Students at Elim have a wide range of social/emotional needs and through the relentless efforts of social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavior therapists, teachers, and paraprofessionals, a plethora of supports have been constructed. A small sampling within the Bridges and Crossroads programs include; one-to-one sessions with a social worker, visual aids, communication supports, group sessions, and self-management lessons built in collaboration with teachers. Pathways students receive supports such as; learning coping strategies, direct social work support, online support, and coaching on how to function daily when dealing with change.
SEL has been integral to Elim students throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, with the shift to remote learning greatly impacting how communication happens. Sarah Evans explains “It’s affected the way we can deliver services here…one of the things we’ve worked on a lot is play skills, learning to share and take turns, that’s been completely suspended. The things we’ve been able to during our group sessions have had to change a lot.” While the shift to online learning was not ideal, Elim’s social workers persevered. Students learned Zoom skills and SEL strategies were given to families to smooth the transition until in-person learning was able to resume in February. What could have been a very detrimental skill gap became an opportunity for Elim’s social workers to provide invaluable assistance.
International SEL Day acknowledges the value of social emotional learning all over the world. To close, Noelle connected SEL to the greater vision God has for each of us: “Being at Elim we know that as individuals we were created to be social beings and desire connection. Social emotional learning is helping to shape and define those skills.”
For more information about Elim’s social workers as well as complete interviews, check out the Elim Thriving Podcast at the links below: