Brunswick schools implementing social-emotional curriculum

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BRUNSWICK — Students in Brunswick schools will benefit from more than just an academic curriculum this year, thanks to a grant the district recently received from AmeriCorps

Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin said in an interview Aug. 21 that the Brunswick School Department has been awarded $74,000 from the community service organization.

The funding will pay for five full-time AmeriCorps service members to work in K-8 schools throughout the Brunswick School Department, as well as the REAL School. The workers will be trained by the district to phase in a social-emotional skills curriculum and restorative justice practices.

Tuesday, Sept. 4 is the first day of school for all elementary and Brunswick Junior High School students.

Sept. 4 is also kindergarten screening day for those who missed the May screening. Sept. 5 is Class Placement Day.

At Brunswick Junior High, sixth-grade students will arrive at 7:50 a.m. Sept. 4 for orientation. Seventh- and eighth-graders will arrive at school at 10:55 a.m. 

Orientation for Brunswick High School freshmen and new students will also be Sept. 4, but there will be no classes for upperclassmen that day.

On Wednesday, Sept. 5, all high school students will attend their first full day of classes.

More information is available on the Brunswick School Department website. 

Makin said the social-emotional curriculum, called Second Step, will be introduced for all students, with a long-term goal to “reduce negative behaviors in the classroom.”

The grant is run on a three-year cycle, and Makin said after the first cyclethe district will have the option to apply for two additional three-year cycles.

According to its website, Second Step is an evidence-based Social Emotional Learning program, which is a process “through which children and adults can better understand, manage, and express emotions and empathy, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Makin said Second Step has been piloted for a few years at the Coffin School, where staff has had “a lot of success” with the program.

“What they were noticing is it would be extremely helpful for (the program) to be carried forward and increase developmentally along the other grade levels,” she said.

Second Step is geared towards K-8 students, and Makin said the hope is by the time the students reach high school the foundation will be in place for them, though administration does hope to eventually phase the program in at the high school level.

“Focusing that energy on lower grades makes a lot of sense,” she said.

She also said there is research to support the benefits of directly teaching social-emotional skills to students, including positive effects on their friendships and general behavior.

Making sure students feel “safe and cared for” at school is also a “prerequisite” for learning, she said, and the district expects to see academic growth as a result of directly addressing students’ mental health and behavior.

She said the other half of the new program, restorative justice practices, refer to supplementing what she called a “one size fits all disciplinary response,” such as detentions, with other measures. 

The idea is for AmeriCorps workers to “infuse something already in place with something more educational, to help (students) take a different perspective, like learning self-calming strategies.”

For instance, if a student is given an office detention, an AmeriCorps member might be on hand to help the student with a reflection sheet to “bring something positive” back to the classroom.

The new method is important, she said, because of research that shows punitive measures are “ineffective at changing behavior.”

Removing a student from a school setting takes them away from the academic flow and social network, she said, which is disruptive and also might feel like a relief to students who are not being successful in school.

“We know for certain that exclusionary discipline, when students are removed from the classroom or from school entirely like expulsion or suspension, that tends to exacerbate instead of repair students who have (behavior issues),” she said.

She added the district is going to move “very slowly” on introducing the restorative practices and not remove measures like detentions, suspensions, or expulsion. Other districts have tried to do that all at once, she said, and failed.

Ultimately, the new approach is about seeing students’ behavior in a new way.

“You have to start with a mindset around viewing student behavior with more curiosity instead of judgment,” she said. 

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

The first day of school for all elementary school, junior high, new students and freshmen in the Brunswick School Department will be Tuesday, Sept. 4. The first day for Brunswick High School sophomores, juniors, and seniors is Sept. 5.

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