Guest editorial: Support social-emotional learning programs
September 6, 2016
Many of us were glued to our televisions and laptops watching the competition in Rio last month. Soon, we'll tune in to the Paralympic Games. The Opening Ceremonies, Sept. 7 on NBC , will be co-hosted by Park City's own Paralympic Champion, Chris Waddell.
It's worth the watch. The Olympics and Paralympics are not only the pinnacle of sport, but the culmination of years of hard work and determination on the part of the individual athletes. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that becoming an Olympic athlete is as demanding mentally as it is physically.
Focus, discipline, emotional control, and planning are just as crucial as raw athletic talent. I know that my determination and will was instrumental in getting me to the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994.
Yet, my training in non-physical skills began even earlier in my life than my training on the hill. Like all of us, I had to begin to learn how to control my emotions and to develop other social skills from the time I was a toddler. And I had to refine and polish those abilities as I grew.
By the time I reached adulthood, I had the social and emotional skillset necessary both to make it to the Olympics and, even more importantly, to be a functioning, productive member of society.
Learning social and emotional skills comes easily for some of us, but many children aren't so fortunate. Lots of kids grow up in environments or face challenges that compromise their ability to cultivate healthy relationships, communicate constructively, and manage their emotions.
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Students across the country, including many here in Utah, often struggle with basic life skills. For example, more than 22,000 Utah students are suspended from school each year.
Education that focuses on social-emotional learning (SEL) can provide one solution to this problem.
Social-emotional learning concentrates on teaching students to become well-adjusted adults. SEL helps teach kids concepts like working well in groups, resisting negative peer pressure, managing emotions, and taking turns.
Research spotlighted by the sports leader network Champions for America's Future illustrates the importance of SEL development: In a study that began two decades ago, teachers assessed students' "social competence," based on SEL-related measures like cooperation with peers and understanding others' feelings.
The findings of the study revealed the impact that SEL can have: A child's social-emotional development level in kindergarten can accurately predict a number of life outcomes by age 25. Outcomes that relate to social-emotional development include stable employment, graduating from high school on time, needing special-education services, receiving public assistance, and being arrested.
Amazingly, kindergarten students who scored well on social-skill assessments were even twice as likely to graduate from college compared to children who scored poorly.
Those results drive home the idea that children take the first steps on the path to success in their earliest years. Because of the importance of those first years, investing in quality early-childhood programs that stress SEL is a must.
Schools can also support SEL using federal funding provided through the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Congress directed that up to $1.65 billion could be put towards Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, the funding from which can be used for programs that benefit social-emotional learning.
However, Congress and the White House have put forth proposed spending plans that fail to provide meaningful funding for this essential grant program. When finalizing the fiscal year 2017 budget, lawmakers should fulfill the $1.65 billion originally intended for Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants.
I know the impact that getting an early start can have, whether athletic or educational. Early learning programs that include SEL help children with an even more fundamental part of life.
That's why emphasizing quality early-childhood education that stresses SEL is important. Social-emotional learning is vital to making sure that today's children are the stable, educated, law-abiding adults of tomorrow.