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Social Emotional Skills Enhance Learning

A major goal for Hawthorn Middle South’s Advisory program is for staff and students to build relationships in order to improve two-way communication to address a wide-range of situations, topics, concerns and issues facing middle school students. Furthermore, the Advisory program is geared to help students develop tolerance and respect for one another, recognize personal strengths, and recognize that everyone has strengths even though they may be different from one another.
 Hawthorn Middle School South staff has dedicated hours to helping students transition into middle school life and deal with the many changes around them.

Using the state’s social emotional learning standards as a guide, the school advisory team has worked with students to help them develop the necessary skills needed to succeed in school and in life. Staff work with students on everything from managing stress, to making friends, to developing problem solving skills, and to learning about themselves. Each grade level has a theme they work with: 6th grade is “Belonging”, 7th grade is “Diversity and Accepting Individual Differences”, and 8th grade is “Acceptance and Individuality”.

Ongoing surveys with students help staff determine which issues to target with students. For instance, last year’s survey indicated that students needed to build more trusting relationships with staff. The middle school advisory team developed activities that would help foster and build more trusting relationships. They believed if students had adults they could trust there would be a more positive school atmosphere and less discipline issues. They found that when students reported incidences early it allowed the school to be more proactive with their prevention efforts This year the surveys indicated that students really didn’t know each other so activities were built on students getting to know and understand each other in different and more meaningful ways. The goal is to to build more empathy in students resulting in a more positive school atmosphere. Other topics covered in advisory have been bullying, coping skills, peer pressure, consequences of cheating, and internet and social networking safety.

The state’s social emotional learning standards ask schools to develop self awareness and self management skills, which experts believe are essential for school and life success. The standards call for using interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships. Finally, the standards want students to demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and the student’s community.

“If we can help kids take their minds off the things that are bugging them they are in a much better place academically to learn,” said Anthony Dengler, sixth grade math teacher.