As many Patch readers may recall, over the past year some community members have been advocates for an ever increasing focus on character education in our schools to ensure an environment conducive to comfortable learning for all students.
Indeed, on March 1 of this year Christopher Koch, the Illinois State Superintendent of Education, issued a 100+ page memo entitled "School Bullying Prevention Task Force Report." This report conveys the State's acknowledgment of a persistent bullying problem in the United States (Illinois included), and supports the State's commitment to Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The sentiment leading to the promotion of this character education is perhaps best captured by Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH):
"If we want to push academic performance to the next level, we need to educate the whole child. That means teaching kids how to appropriately handle their emotions and build productive relationships. It's one of the most significant things we can do to support them. I wish SEL was in schools when I was growing up."
Tim Ryan was one of three US Congressmen who announced the introduction of HB 4223, the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act, new legislation that authorizes the US Department of Education to establish programs and allocate funds to: establish a national technical assistance and training center for SEL; provide grants to support evidence-based SEL programming; and conduct a national evaluation of school-based SEL programming.
Social Emotional Learning is the process by which people develop the skills to handle themselves in the world, manage relationships, and work through challenging situations constructively and ethically. A strong base of research links SEL to positive academic and behavioral outcomes:
- Better academic performance: Students who participated in SEL programs increase achievement scores an average of 11 percentile points versus students who did not participate;
- Improved attitudes and behaviors: SEL instills greater motivation to learn, deeper commitment to school, increased time on schoolwork, better behavior, and improved attendance and graduation rates;
- Fewer negative behaviors: Among students receiving SEL instruction, disruptive class behavior, noncompliance, aggression, delinquent acts, and disciplinary referrals decrease significantly;
- Reduced emotional distress: Reports of student depression, anxiety, stress and social withdrawal significantly decrease among students who receive SEL instruction.
Continuing incidents of bullying or violence in school further announce the need for greater and greater focus in this area. Nearly 200 parents, students and concerned citizens expressed their desire to see a program like Rachel's Challenge implemented in our schools by signing a petition developed for this purpose. It is great to know that although Rachel's Challenge will not be implemented at this time, Principal Olson (Central) has indicated that the plan for this year is to have both and High Schools host all-school assemblies with special guest Keith Hawkins in mid-September.
Hawkins comes from a group called Real Inspiration, Inc. (RI), and promotes concepts similar to those invoked by Rachel's Challenge. In fact, Hawkins spoke at Columbine HS just six months after the horror that occurred there in April, 1999, to address the devastating effects that bullying often plays in such tragedies. And not unlike RC, the presentation is expected to center on RI's HELP Mission: Bullying Prevention Assembly. HELP is an acronym that Hawkins uses to convey his message:
- H, honor each other
- E, encourage each other
- L, lead our friends to do what's right
- P, protect each other.
In Hawkin's words, "If the culture at your school becomes a culture where we HELP one another, then the climate is brighter for all of us." We're looking forward to the inspiration that Hawkins can bring to our young adults.
Furthermore, it is this citizen’s hope that this is just one step of many on a road to continuous school cultural improvement, for it takes a suite of events like Keith Hawkins and Rachel’s Challenge, reinforcement follow-up actions like Friends of Rachel or acceptance weeks (as Cary-Grove HS held last Spring), and continued use of Interact/Link Crew at Cary-Grove, Service Learning at Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake Central’s Tiger Leaders (to name but a few) to fully instill the attitude of acceptance necessary to make all students comfortable in the learning environment so that they can fully realize their potential.
District 155 Parent