Advisory Aims to Build Relationships

Andrew Botolino, Staff Writer

Education is not only a practice necessary for traditional school subjects, but also for development of essential life skills–exactly what the new Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum aims to achieve for BHS’s eighth and ninth graders.

Former school psychologist Tabatha Thomas transitioned to become BHS’ first SEAD (social, emotional, and academic development) coach for the 2018-19 school year. While many people think that Social Emotional Learning is centered around mental health, it really isn’t. It encompasses “a lot of the skills necessary to be a productive adult in society,” Thomas explained, “like being able to ask questions, self-awareness, and advocating for yourself. Really, it’s been taught for years; we’re just structuring it now.”

For Thomas, this transition hasn’t been easy.

“We’re all developing our own skills and understanding of SEL together,” she noted.
“As adults, we need to reflect on ourselves. There’s a lot in the curriculum that we all need to learn.”

Thomas emphasized that what the SEL program teaches are concepts everyone can improve upon.

From eight grader Rebecca Martin’s perspective, the SEL program that takes place during the new TGA or “advisory” blocks that occur twice a week focuses on things like “how to handle feelings, react to anger, and diversity.”

These teachings were familiar to the eighth graders, said Fiona Smith, “we learned the same things in Second Step (a SEL-based curriculum created towards middle and elementary schoolers) last year.” Fellow eighth grader Morgan Dennison explained, “we had Second Step once a week last year for an hour. It counted as an enrichment, and we’d always find time to do it.”

Thomas understood the eighth graders’ point of view, but also reasoned that “just like any other research-based curriculum, SEL’s curriculum repeats and builds on learned skills.” It’s similar to math or English, she pointed out in that students progress in each as they grow older, but some material will always carry over.

But the eighth graders had other critiques–not so much with the program, but rather the schedule that seemed to restrict it.

“There’s so much to do in Second Step,” Dennison said. “Two classes just isn’t enough. It takes a lot longer than 40 minutes.”

The eighth graders seemed to have a grasp on the schedule already, and viewed the new SEL/TGA class as too important to be allocated solely to two 20-minute periods a week.

“I don’t like that it’s not a full block,” Smith said.

These eighth graders never experienced the old 10 minute-a-day TGA, so to them, TGA was another class like Math or English.

“The schedule change was a complete coincidence,” said Thomas.

She and the SEL program are adjusting to it just like everyone else, she explained.
“Even with the best planning, very rarely does something carry out exactly like it was supposed to. Is it ideal? No, but we’ll make it work. We’re resilient!” She said.

That resilience will be necessary. Eighth grader Chris Koch said there is still room for improvement. “I’d rather grab a partner and teach to them than write about how to do stuff.”

Dennison seconded that, saying she’d like to “teach the class,” or “lead a conversation” as opposed to watching videos or completing worksheets.

English teacher Michele Netto talks to her eighth grade advisory about social emotional wellness.
The implementation of the program is only the beginning.
“We have a building of great teachers who are talented and committed, and that’s the formula to make it work,” emphasized Thomas.