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Emotional Learning Becomes Tool to Combat School Violence

Causeway Galveston


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Emotional Learning Becomes Tool to Combat School Violence


By KATHRYN EASTBURN The Daily News (Nov 1, 2018) - Facing the threat of school violence, districts have reacted with plenty of strategies to prevent such events on their campuses, including beefing up monitoring devices and firearms, exacting harsher penalties on students who issue threats and practicing lockdown.


Ranking at the top of most recommendations for a safer school environment, however, is a strong focus on social and emotional learning, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.


Galveston Independent School District is implementing Causeway Galveston, a project that will provide social and emotional learning to middle and high school students as well as mental health services to elementary and secondary students, thanks to grants from the Menninger Clinic and the Moody Foundation.


Social and emotional learning focuses on developing self-awareness and self-management, communicating more effectively, developing awareness and respect for differences and honing skills in relationships, not just in the traditional three Rs, educators say.


“The focus on threats of school violence is why Causeway Galveston came together,” said Molly Allmond, Galveston ISD’s director of secondary education and a social and emotional learning design team member. “We wanted to get to the root cause rather than simply being reactive.”


The idea emerged in 2016 and seed funds of $175,000 from Menninger came in 2017. And although the group didn’t know it would be facing the fallout of a school shooting that killed 10 people in nearby Santa Fe in May, the Moody Foundation grant, totaling more than $7.5 million, arrived in July to fund Causeway Galveston along with a number of other district initiatives.


Members of the design team working to integrate social and emotional learning into the district’s culture are Allmond; Cherie Spencer, social and emotional learning coordinator; Dr. Julie Purser, executive director of the Family Service Center of Galveston County; Liz Torres, associate director for Behavioral Health and Research at University of Texas Medical Branch; Dr. Beth Auslander, professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Medical Branch and mental health director of the district’s Teen Health Center; and Alan Ellinger, director of instructional resources and special initiatives at the district.


The goal of the design team is to develop Galveston’s innovative partnership across health care and educational entities and to be a model for how to promote social and emotional learning and mental health in schools, according to the grant proposal.


“We didn’t want this to be just one more program we dump on teachers,” Torres said. “It’s more about changing the culture.”


What the project really hopes to provide for students is a strong web of safety and support, the most potentially effective way to prevent violence in schools, Purser said.


“Kids need to feel connected with each other, with their teachers and comfortable with themselves,” she said.


Team members said their approach, with mental health professionals and educators working together, is designed to help them reach more kids as they work collaboratively, integrating mental health and traditional learning rather than working in silos on their own areas of expertise.


Grant funds have enabled placing social and emotional learning specialists on district campuses this year at Ball High School, AIM College and Career Preparatory Academy, Galveston Academy and Collegiate Academy. Specialists will eventually expand their reach to other campuses.


“We’re starting small, but our vision is large,” Allmond said.


By integrating social and emotional learning into the schools, Causeway Galveston is fulfilling a stated goal of the school district’s strategic plan: to address the needs of the whole child, members said.


“Training to be a teacher, not once did I take a class in how to raise a child,” Spencer said. “I didn’t learn about what makes up a child, the whole child, not just a problem behavior. Sometimes we forget, that as teachers, we are helping to develop a whole person.”