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Making the Grade: Addressing students social and emotional needs while improving academics

Published: Oct. 8, 2021 at 8:43 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg School is revealing part of its strategy to tackle the achievement gap between Black and White students.

Leaders believe addressing the social and emotional needs of students will help get the job done. CMS has adopted a social and emotional learning curriculum for students.

“Students academic performance is improved,” Dr. Cotrane Penn, CMS’ executive director for student wellness and academic support, said. “When they have strong emotional skills.”

Penn says this strategy is evidence-based. CMS students will have social and emotional learning class time. That class time could range from 15 to 30 minutes and based on the student’s grade. They could meet five days a week.

Topics could include responsible decision-making skills. Leaders say that is needed to help with academic achievement. Activities for that class could sound like this.

“Fourth-graders work together over the course of the week with their teacher to determine what classroom jobs their school and their classroom and community need,” Penn said. “They develop proposals for what jobs they want. They submit it to a teacher and that following Monday, she assigns the jobs to the students.”

Students will also get an assessment done to help school staff determine what’s needed for that child. Questions asked will give the information that’s needed.

“Tell me how you are doing,” Penn said. “Tell me where you feel confident and tell me where you don’t feel confident. Tell me how I am treating you. How am I making you feel? Are there people in this building you feel who have your back if you need it?”

Leaders also want to offer each student an adult advocate. That person will help guide students through the academic and social and emotional path. Penn believes these steps could help boost low reading scores.

“In order to engage effectively in reading instruction, or reading curriculum, requires group interaction,” Penn said. “It requires partner activity and so I need to have good social and emotional skills to be able to engage most effectively with the curriculum.”

Training is taking place for teachers and other staff so they know how to deal with students’ social and emotional states. Penn says counselors embrace the challenge ahead and have the energy to stay on the job.

“We’ve had relatively low turnover since the start of the school year,” Penn said. “Why do I think that is? I think they feel supported by the department. I think in large part they feel supported by their schools and understand that their role is of critical importance right now, and we care about their well-being.”

CMS knows time is of the essence and people in the community want academic achievement to happen sooner rather than later for students. The challenge is time.

“How to get it done fast enough,” Penn said. “because there is a lot of it to get done.”

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