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By Billy Rudolph

Marley Purcell is a Ball High senior looking forward to graduation and ready to get out into the world and make a difference. Mia Galindo is a junior who often thinks about her future and what is in store for her beyond this year. The girls are not only good friends, but share an emotional connection to each other...a connection that never existed before they became SEL-fies (Social Emotional Learning- Friends in Education).

A SEL-fie is what you call yourself when you become a part of Galveston ISD’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) movement. For the past four years, Causeway Galveston has been working on increasing mental health awareness and access to care by teaching social emotional learning lessons in the classroom and providing on-campus mental health support. 

Galveston ISD’s SEL program works in conjunction with Family Service Center, Teen Health Center, Inc., and UTMB Center for Violence and Prevention to collectively form what is known as Causeway Galveston.

“Mental health encompasses our emotional, behavioral and social well-being. We are all faced with mental health challenges throughout our life and the more we can support one another the stronger our mental health will become,” stresses district SEL Coordinator Cherie’ Spencer. “Causeway Galveston’s main purpose is to help people (students and teachers) understand how our emotions are connected to academic and life success.”

“I suffer from depression and anxiety. I feel closed off and have a hard time reading the room,” admits Galindo. “Now I can more easily identify my emotions and the emotions of others.”

“I’m quite introverted, so it was hard to imagine others that were similar to me,” explains Purcell. “Now, it’s just something to look forward to. I get excited to attend. They are helpful and help me to move forward.”

Once a month the SEL-fies get together for a mini-camp and openly talk about their feelings and how to cope with issues from anxiety to social awareness, self-esteem, and just being present and connected to the world around them. During this time, they utilize student voice to share not only the campus climate concerns but to create sustainable solutions to those concerns. SEL-fie mini camps take place at other district campuses including, Collegiate Academy, AIM and Ball High School. Twice a year student      SEL-fies district wide will come together to share their successes and challenges with one another as well as engage in team building activities.

“They walk away with tools to utilize in any situation. They are recognizing their emotions and how to respond,” says Spencer. “We’ve seen a lack of motivation due to COVID and its effect on society. We need to see that motivation level start to go back up.”

“Kids go through a lot. I know some that are struggling at this school,” recognizes Purcell. “One project was about making other student groups aware of where to go for help.” 

“In the beginning it was an outcast feeling, but after meeting others I felt more comfortable,” says Galindo. “This has helped me academically because I’m more socially aware and aware of the future.”

“This year we have seen an increased need for individual support. Anxiety affects students and adults,” informs Spencer. “Students worry about grades and how to socialize and people are starting to recognize mental health signs within themselves. The level of success we as a community are striving for will be reached, when we as a collective (district leaders, parents and educators) start to come together and support both the mind and the heart of our stakeholders (students, teachers, families).”

Spencer notes that we, as well as all other districts and the public sector, are going through an ‘SEL Movement’ where resources like this are in more demand than ever.

“I think 10 years from now it could become more of an integrated process in the classroom and will help more students and teachers connect with their emotions,” predicts Spencer. “This can strengthen relationships between students, teachers, families and district leaders.”

“All of our student SEL-fies are diverse and some from different social groups and different perspectives, but we are all here for the same reason,” realizes Purcell. “It’s for anyone. We are representative of a school that is very diverse.”

“I think that because we have a shared goal, we have a strong network of people we can trust and support each other,” adds Galindo.

“We see a variety of students, it’s not a one-size-fits-all or something that affects people from only certain walks of life or socio-economic status,” says Spencer. “Caring for the whole child means looking at the brain and the heart.”

Galveston ISD’s SEL program is grant funded through the 2022-2023 school year. Spencer says that with the increased awareness and need for emotional support the district will likely apply for refunding of the grant after next year.