BCSD teachers find ways to prioritize the mental health of students through CASEL

February 24, 2023 /

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) was created in 1994 as a response to a better approach to teaching the “whole child,” as Dr. James P. Comer phrased it. Comer is the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. 

CASEL and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs were created using Comer and other researchers’ and educators’ knowledge. Thanks to Comer and his colleagues, the implementation of the “whole child” approach worked in increasing academic achievement and lowering behavioral problems. 

Creators of SEL claim it’s preventative and stops violence in schools by helping students identify, regulate, and cope with emotions. SEL is currently vying for funding alongside other measures to end violence in schools like more security and surveillance.

“All children can be great. All children matter,” said Timothy Shriver, a former educator who helped shape today’s SEL programs. 

For Bakersfield City School District (BCSD) there has been a push to use SEL as students and teachers were challenged with transitioning to online learning due to the pandemic in 2020. At Voorhies Elementary in Bakersfield, SEL was required during the pandemic and is now optional for teachers to devote time to.  

“[SEL] has a great impact on our students,” stated Christine Mojarra, a Special Education Instructor for BCSD.  

Mojarra starts each day by checking in with every student and asking them how they are feeling. 

“On a daily basis, they’re about 15 minutes. I run a slide that has different emotions. Are you happy, are you sad, are you tired, are you angry or mad? And then what we do is watch a video on emotions,” said Mojarra.

Mojarra mentioned the importance of breathing exercises and space to connect to their emotions. For her class, their favorite SEL-related activity is breathing exercises using balloons. SEL has improved Mojarra’s student independence and overall ability to enjoy learning in her classroom despite daily challenges. 

“When we have a student that is angry, we had one the other day. We had to let the student know we have to use nice hands, so we don’t hit our friends in the classroom. [The student] got upset, and that’s when our tool came in. Breathe in, breathe out… That really helps our students,” recalled Mojarra. 

One of the objects SEL encourages teachers and students to use is measuring tape strips. The measuring tape along with the balloons helps students visualize and focus on their breathing, which is an important coping skill for stress.

BCSD teachers have reported buying their own materials and investing their own time into creating engaging activities with limited resources. 

Ways the public can dictate what curriculum is being taught throughout students’ k-12 learning by contacting state lawmakers and asking for amendments to laws or funding for programs. It is up to each state to define a student’s right to public education.

“Now it’s about Social Emotional Learning. They’re coming after that next. They’re banning books,” stated Governor Gavin Newsom at a press conference in 2022.  

Banned books and issues regarding censorship have been widespread across the nation. Kern residents have been diligently showing up to BCSD meetings to express their concerns about topics like banning books, SEL, and Critical Race Theory. 

“The Bakersfield City School District is committed to supporting the social-emotional, mental, and physical health of all students, families, and staff through a culturally responsive and trauma-informed multi-tiered system of support. We continue to advance efforts that emphasize the development of student self-efficacy, agency, empathy, and social-emotional learning competencies,” stated Tabatha Mills, BCSD Superintendent Chief of Communications.

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