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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Be the Parent You Want to Be! A New Way of Understanding and Parenting Kids

From The Ely Center

November 23, 2015

Announcing the 2016 Schedule at The Ely Center

Do you ever feel frustrated with your child? Find yourself shouting often and imposing punishments or rewards in reaction to challenging behavior? Do you wish you had a more effective parenting approach that also helps to build a better relationship between you and your child?

Think:Kids' Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) approach, based in MGH's Department of Psychiatry, provides parents with concrete tools to better understand and parent their kids in the face of day-to-day challenges – e.g., getting to school, homework, screen time, bedtime – and more serious challenges.

It’s based on the understanding that many kids lack the skill, not the will, to behave well – specifically skills related to problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance.

Parents who attend the CPS overview learn to:
  • Shift their thinking and approach to foster positive relationships with their child;
  • Reduce their child’s challenging behavior;
  • Solve problems collaboratively and proactively;
  • Help their child develop skills related to self-regulation, communication and problem-solving.

When:    10:00am - 12 noon, 5 Tuesdays,
                    January 12 - February 9, 2016; and,
                    6:30 - 8:30pm, 5 Wednesdays, March 2 - 30, 2016

Where: The Ely Center
                    84 Rowe St, Auburndale, MA 02466
                    (617) 795-1755

For more information and to register for 2016 sessions, please visit: http://www.betheparentyouwanttobe.weebly.com.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The IEP: A Primer for Parents New to the Process

From Smart Kids with LD

By Eve Kessler, Esq.
November 17, 2015

At a Glance
  • Becoming the advocate your child deserves requires that you participate fully in his IEP meetings;
  • Preparing ahead is fundamental to achieving the outcomes that will ensure educational success;
  • Showing up with a collegial attitude will help with problem-solving.

As a parent of a child with LD or ADHD, it is your responsibility to partner with your child’s school in planning his education. In fact, the law empowers you to be a vital part of his special education process, making you an equal member of your child’s Individualized Education Planning (IEP) team. As such, it is important for you to understand the process and come to IEP meetings prepared to advocate for his interests.

The IEP is the document that provides a road map for your child’s education. It is a bridge between his disability and the standards and framework of the general education curriculum.

The IEP determines what he will learn and be able to do, specifies the programs and services he will receive, sets achievement targets, and tells you whether or not he is making progress and mastering skills.

Because the IEP is the basis for your child’s education, the IEP meeting offers you the best opportunity to ensure his academic success.

The IEP meeting should be functional and time-efficient. To prepare, you will need to plan ahead, research, and organize your information and thoughts. Below are guidelines for ensuring that the IEP meeting achieves what it must to further your child’s education.

Planning and Preparation
  • Take the time to develop a “vision statement,” in which you share with the team an accurate and comprehensive picture of your child.
  • Establish appropriate goals. Goals should be attainable in one year, and be reasonable, measurable, apply to all classes and linked to your child’s present levels of performance.
  • Determine how progress will be evaluated. For example, know what data will be used and who will collect it; have baseline data taken as a source of comparison.
  • Be knowledgeable about research-based services appropriate for your child, so you can give input as to what she needs in order to maximize participation and progress in the general education curriculum.
  • Be clear on who will be providing the services, what their qualifications are, where and how often the services will occur, how progress will be monitored, and when you will be informed of how your child is doing.
  • Discuss your child and his program at pre-IEP conferences. It is essential that all team and family members and any independent therapists working with him are able to share information and converse with each other.
  • Do your homework. Prior to the meeting, write a letter to the team requesting a copy of all evaluations that will be reviewed, and share any reports or test results that you want considered. There should be no surprises at the IEP meeting. Don’t put yourself in a position to be hearing your child’s evaluations or test results for the first time at the table; you must digest the information at home to be able to make informed requests and decisions.
  • Ask for specifics. Understand which evaluation procedures and performance criteria will be used to gauge your child’s progress, and make sure the assessments are standardized.
  • Trust your instincts. If the evaluations, recommendations and/or test results do not sound like your child, you may request an Independent Educational Evaluation at the district’s expense, or you may pay for one yourself. Make sure you ask a lot of questions, focus on recommendations and, if possible, bring the evaluator or an expert to the table to stand behind the report and advocate for your child.
  • Work collaboratively with the team. Try to take any “emotionality” out of your meetings. Presentation is important: begin with a complimentary attitude, and thank the team for their efforts. Remember that without diversity and disagreements, there would be no team. Make sure, however, that nothing you want discussed is left unaddressed.
  • Review final recommendations at the close of the meeting. Document all areas of agreement and disagreement, and clarify areas of concern. All agreements must be put in writing. If you do not agree, make sure to speak up. If you are dissatisfied, know your recourse, your procedural safeguards, and your rights to appeal to a higher authority.

IEP Action Plan
  • Come to meetings prepared;
  • Maintain a quiet confidence and positive mental attitude;
  • Be a problem solver;
  • Maintain a firm, determined demeanor;
  • Avoid rigidity and reaction to offense;
  • Do not assume responsibility for things out of your control.

This article is based on information presented at a Smart Kids community event by Noreen O’Mahoney, CSW, SDA, Director of Collaborative Advocacy Associates, Wilton, CT. Eve Kessler, Esq. is president and co-founder of SPED*NET Wilton (CT), former Chair of the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities and a contributing editor to Smart Kids.

Related Smart Kids Topics

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Mindfulness Meditation May Improve Memory for Teens

From Reuters Health

By Kathryn Doyle
November 17, 2015

Adolescents assigned to a mindfulness meditation program appeared to have improvements in memory in a recent study.

“These results are consistent with a growing body of research in adults that has found mindfulness meditation to be a helpful tool for enhancing working memory capacity,” said Kristen E. Jastrowski Mano of the psychology department at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the new study.

The researchers randomly divided 198 public middle school students into three groups: mindfulness meditation, hatha yoga or a waitlist. Most students were female, ages 12 to 15, and from low-income households that qualified for reduced-cost lunch.

Before the study began and after it ended, the students completed computer-based memory assessments and reported their stress and anxiety levels via questionnaires.

The meditation and yoga groups met for 45 minutes twice a week, for four weeks. In addition, students logged their home practice in journals that were collected each week.

Two trained mindfulness instructors led the meditation group in breathing techniques, formal meditation and discussion using written scripts with instructions on sitting posture, breathing and wandering thoughts.

Students were encouraged to take CDs with meditation audio recordings and use them for 15 to 30 minutes daily at home.

The yoga sessions were structured similarly, with trained instructors focusing on breathing, yoga poses and discussion. The kids in this group were also encouraged to practice at home daily using a DVD with yoga lessons.

Memory scores increased in the mindfulness meditation group by the end of the study, while they did not change in the yoga or waitlist groups, the authors reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Perceived stress and anxiety decreased in all three groups over time.

“Working memory is often conceptualized as being a 'mental workbench' that allows a person to keep information in mind long enough for reasoning and comprehension to occur,” Jastrowski Mano told Reuters Health. “It is involved in helping the brain shift information from short-term memory to long-term memory.”

Working memory is involved in many aspects of learning, like reasoning ability, mathematical problem solving, and reading comprehension, she said.

“Theoretical and experimental research suggests that mindfulness meditation is associated with changes in neural pathways and may be particularly effective in promoting executive functioning,” Jastrowski Mano said.

“The practice of meditation - which requires sustained attention while simultaneously redirecting attention back to the current experience - is closely related to the function of working memory.”

Some of the benefit of the meditation sessions may come from the relationships the teens build with the instructors, said Gina Biegel, a private practice psychotherapist in San Francisco who was not part of the new study.

“These youth are not getting a lot of attention from chaotic home environments,” Biegel told Reuters Health by email. “People in the mindfulness community are compassionate and respectful and create a relationship they don’t get elsewhere.”

Present moment awareness and focus exercises can be helpful too, as teens are often multitasking with homework, mobile devices, music and friends, she said.

Teens may want to consider mindfulness meditation for more than just the potential benefit of improving working memory capacity, Jastrowski Mano said, as there is growing evidence that youth experience many different physical and psychological benefits.

“But more research is definitely needed to figure out which adolescents benefit the most from mindfulness meditation, and in what ways,” she said, and she and her coauthors are cautious about making broad recommendations to schools.

“That said, many schools are very enthusiastic about and open to integrating mindfulness practices into their schools, so it is certainly something worth considering,” she said.

  • bit.ly/1NBO7WF The Journal of Adolescent Health, online November 11, 2015.


Therapeutic Yoga Services at NESCA

Yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices are rapidly gaining recognition as effective treatments for conditions such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, anxiety and depression. At the cutting-edge of this treatment revolution, NESCA has provided therapeutic yoga services to children and adolescents for the past several years, with excellent results. 

The NESCA yoga program is rooted in the belief that self-regulation and self-awareness skills are essential foundations of success and general well-being in all settings. Sessions are designed to work with the learning style of each participant and to be appropriately engaging and fun in order to promote active participation.

NESCA is pleased to offer the following Therapeutic Yoga Services:

The “Yoga Connects” Program

Yoga Connects is a unique yoga program designed to meet the needs of young people with autism and other special challenges. Parents and children typically participate together, although 1-1 sessions may also be available. Yoga Connects utilizes a visual yoga curriculum and specialized teaching approach developed by Hannah Gould. Home practice is encouraged and supported by the take-home visual curriculum.

With Yoga Connects, yoga can become a meaningful shared activity and provide a daily respite from stress for both parent and child.

Therapeutic Yoga

Therapeutic yoga uses movement, breathing, mindfulness exercises and meditation techniques to bring children to an awareness of what is happening in their bodies and minds and to provide them with specific tools they can use to regulate themselves. Many children respond better to the body-based approach used in therapeutic yoga than to traditional talking-based therapies. This approach can be especially powerful for kinesthetic learners and those with language processing difficulties.

Therapeutic yoga sessions are typically done 1-1, but in some cases small groups may be available.

Adaptive Yoga

Adaptive yoga sessions are available for children or adults with physical disabilities or mobility challenges. Sessions are offered in NESCA’s wheelchair-accessible space, and may also be available off-site in your home, school, day program or other setting. Adaptive yoga strengthens the body-mind connection and places emphasis on what the student’s body can do.

Consultation and Training

Hannah Gould is available to provide consultation and training to parents and professionals interested in bringing yoga and mindfulness based activities or the Yoga Connects program into their home, school or clinical settings.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Helping Children Cope With Frightening News

From the Child Mind Insititute

By Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D.
November 17, 2015

What parents can do to aid kids in processing grief and fear in a healthy way.

When tragedy strikes, as parents you find yourself doubly challenged: to process your own feelings of grief and distress, and to help your children do the same.

I wish I could tell you how to spare your children pain, when they've lost friends or family members, and fear, when disturbing events occur, especially when they're close to home. I can't do that, but what I can do is share what I've learned about how to help children process disturbing events in the healthiest way.

As a parent, you can't protect you children from grief, but you can help them express their feelings, comfort them, and help them feel safer. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future, and confidence that they can overcome adversity.

Break the news. When something happens that will get wide coverage, my first and most important suggestion is that you don't delay telling your children about what's happened: It's much better for the child if you're the one who tells her. You don't want her to hear from some other child, a television news report, or the headlines on the front page of the New York Post. You want to convey the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.

How to Help Kids Cope After a Traumatic Event
  • A guide for parents, teachers, and community leaders that offers simple tips on what to expect, what to do, and what to look out for after a crisis. Get the Guide

Take your cues from your child. Invite her to tell you anything she may have heard about the tragedy, and how she feels. Give her ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions about upsetting details. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.

Model calm. It's okay to let your child know if you're sad, but if you talk to your child about a traumatic experience in a highly emotional way, then he will likely absorb your emotion and very little else. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, he is likely to grasp what's important: that tragic events can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to grow stronger.

Be reassuring. Talking about death is always difficult, but a tragic accident or act of violence is especially tough because of how egocentric children are: they're likely to focus on whether something like this could happen to them. So it's important to reassure your child about how unusual this kind of event is, and the safety measures that have been taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening to them. You can also assure him that this kind of tragedy is investigated carefully, to identify causes and help prevent it from happening again. It's confidence-building for kids to know that we learn from negative experiences.

Helping Children Deal with Grief
  • You can't protect your kids from the pain of loss, but you can help them recover in a healthy way, and build coping skills for the future. Read More

Help them express their feelings. In your conversation (and subsequent ones) you can suggest ways your child might remember those she's lost: draw pictures or tell stories about things you did together. If you're religious, going to church or synagogue could be valuable.

Be developmentally appropriate. Don't volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child's questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It's okay if you can't answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Difficult conversations like this aren't over in one session; expect to return to the topic as many times as your child needs to come to terms with this experience.

Be available. If your child is upset, just spending time with him may make him feel safer. Children find great comfort in routines, and doing ordinary things together as a family may be the most effective form of healing.

How to Foster Resilience
  • A community of caring adults—and peers, too—can be critical in helping a child recover from a traumatic experience. Read More

Memorialize those who have been lost. Drawing pictures, planting a tree, sharing stories, or releasing balloons can all be good, positive ways to help provide closure to a child. It's important to assure your child that a person continues to live on in the hearts and minds of others.

Doing something to help others in need can be very therapeutic: it can help children not only feel good about themselves but learn a very healthy way to respond to grief.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When Must Massachusetts School Districts Provide Copies of Reports? – An Interpretation and a Call for Revision

From Special Education Today
A Special Ed Law Blog from Kotin, Crabtree & Strong

By Robert Crabtree and Eileen Hagerty
November 17, 2015

"Central to... parents’ effective participation... is their ability to fully digest, understand, and appraise all the relevant information that school participants bring to the table."

We often hear from parents who have asked their school districts to give them copies of evaluation reports as soon as the reports are completed, only to be told that they cannot have those reports until two days before the Team meeting at which the reports will be considered. Many districts will take this position even though the reports in question may have been completed weeks before that meeting.

In our opinion, the districts’ position in those cases is flat wrong.

The districts that take that position cite a regulation (603 CMR 28.04(2)(c)) which provides that, if parents request to see a report that will be considered at a Team meeting, the district must provide a copy “at least” two days before the meeting. (“Days” means calendar, rather than school days, in this regulation.)

If the words “at least” are given any meaning, the regulation is only meant to provide a deadline and is not intended to encourage withholding reports to the last minute.

Moreover, in many cases a different regulation requires delivery far sooner than two days before a Team meeting. The Massachusetts Student Records Regulations require districts to deliver student records to parents “as soon as practicable” after receiving a request, and in any event within ten days (under this regulation too, “days” means calendar days, not school days) following a request. 603 CMR 23.07(2).

The same regulations define a “student record” as including “all information [and materials]… regardless of physical form or characteristics concerning a student that is organized on the basis of the student’s name or in a way that such student may be individually identified, and that is kept by the public schools of the Commonwealth … regardless of where they are located, except for [personal notes, memoranda, etc. kept by a school employee and not made available to others].” 603 CMR 23.02.

Because school evaluation reports identify students by name, they clearly constitute student records. Thus, under the Student Records Regulations, the reports must be provided to parents “as soon as practicable” following a request.

It is obviously “practicable” to copy and deliver an evaluation report, or even a few such reports, within a day or two of receiving a request. Districts often claim, however, that the regulation providing for delivery of evaluation reports two days before a Team meeting (their communications usually omit reference to the words “at least”) somehow trumps the student records requirement and allows them to withhold reports until that two-day deadline is reached. It does not.

Reading the two requirements together, both aim to ensure that parents receive records reasonably quickly after their request. If parents request a student record (evaluation report) less than ten days before a Team meeting, the “practicable” response will always be to deliver that record immediately; in no event, though, should it be delivered less than two days before the Team meeting. The Team-meeting-specific regulation acts, in that case, as a fail-safe provision to ensure that the parents will always have at least two days to review that report.

But, if the parents request a report more than ten days before the Team meeting, and especially if they make the request many days before, they should be given that report immediately (or, if it has not yet been written, as soon as it is available) under the Student Records regulations.

Districts that claim otherwise are pointlessly withholding critical information from parents and undermining what should be a trusting and cooperative relationship, based on a misreading of the applicable legal requirements.

With all that, we think that even if the applicable regulations are accurately interpreted and applied, those regulations beg for revision in keeping with the purposes of IDEA. Team meeting determinations should always be based on informed deliberation and meaningful participation by all parties, including the parents.

Central to the parents’ effective participation in that process is their ability to fully digest, understand, and appraise all the relevant information that school participants bring to the table.

In light of this principle, the regulation providing for delivery to parents of evaluation reports at least two days before their Team meeting, upon request, is deeply flawed in at least two ways.

First, two days prior to a Team meeting is too little time, especially if the parents need to consult with an independent expert to understand and assess the district evaluators’ findings and recommendations. This puts the parents at an unfair disadvantage, particularly in light of the fact that the district has in-house expertise that enables it to interpret its evaluators’ reports and the district has already had plenty of time to review and digest those reports.

When the tables are turned, and it is the district looking for time to review an independent evaluation, the governing regulation (603 CMR 28.04(f)) presents a starkly unjust contrast, giving districts not two, but up to ten school days (not calendar days in this case) to convene the Team after receiving the report.

Districts typically interpret that regulation as license to take a full ten school days to review the report before they convene the Team to discuss it with the parents.

(One unfortunate consequence of that practice, by the way, is that many districts, if they receive a report less than ten school days before the end of the school year, will take the excuse to put off a Team meeting until the fall.)

Second, the current version of the evaluation-specific regulation (603 CMR 28.04(2)(c)) places the burden on parents to make an affirmative request for copies of evaluation reports in order to receive them before the Team meeting. Parents should not have to ask. The regulation should be replaced with a provision requiring districts to deliver copies of any evaluations completed by their evaluators immediately upon completion, without regard to whether the parents request copies. We commend those districts that already make a practice of doing this.

Because evaluations are key to the special education process, timely access to evaluation reports is an important right. Unless and until the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education revises 603 CMR 28.04(2)(c), parents will need to be vigilant and proactive to obtain the information they need.


Robert Crabtree and Eileen Hagerty are partners in the Special Education & Disability Rights practice group at Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP in Boston, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

U.S. Soccer, Resolving Lawsuit, Will Limit Headers for Youth Players

From The New York Times

By Ben Strauss
November 9, 2015

The United States Soccer Federation unveiled a series of safety initiatives Monday aimed at addressing head injuries in the sport, including a policy that sets strict limits on youth players heading the ball.

The new guidelines, which resolve a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and others last year, will prohibit players age 10 and younger from heading the ball and will reduce headers in practice for those from age 11 to 13.

The regulations will be mandatory for U.S. Soccer youth national teams and academies, including Major League Soccer youth club teams, but the rules will be only recommendations for other soccer associations and development programs that are not under U.S. Soccer control.

“What we’re establishing is creating parameters and guidelines with regards to the amount of exposure” to potential head injuries, George Chiampas, U.S. Soccer’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call with reporters. He added that the science on concussions and youth soccer was still evolving, and so would U.S. Soccer’s policies.

Among the other changes will be modifications to substitution rules that are meant to better serve players suspected of having sustained concussions. The specifics of the new policy proposals on substitutions will be announced in the next 30 days, according to U.S. Soccer.

Currently, international rules allow for only three substitutions per game at the senior level, with no arrangement in place for a temporary substitution so a player with a head injury can be examined properly.

Increasing awareness of head injuries, especially after several high-profile cases in Europe and during the 2014 World Cup, have led some to press for rules changes to allow for concussion treatment, but so far there has been little interest in soccer leadership to alter the rules of the game.

U.S. Soccer’s initiative calls for more education for players, parents, coaches and referees, and for more uniform practices for handling youth concussions, and its officials said they hoped those efforts could lead to broader acceptance of the rules about headers by children and the treatment of head injuries.

Monday’s announcement resolved a legal case that began in August 2014, when a group of parents and players filed a class-action lawsuit in United States District Court in California charging FIFA, U.S. Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization with negligence in treating and monitoring head injuries. The suit targeted the Laws of the Game, which govern the sport internationally, as well as several American organizations.

The suit sought no financial damages, only rules changes, as FIFA joined other sports governing bodies like the N.F.L., the N.H.L. and the N.C.A.A. in facing a lawsuit over head injuries.

A judge ruled in the summer that the case against FIFA had no standing, but that an amended complaint could be filed against U.S. Soccer. The announcement of Monday’s initiatives will serve as a resolution in the case, and Steve Berman, the lawyer who brought the case, agreed not to appeal the dismissal.

“With the development of the youth concussion initiative by U.S. Soccer and its youth members, we feel we have accomplished our primary goal and, therefore, do not see any need to continue the pursuit of the litigation,” Berman said in a statement.

According to the original filing in the case, nearly 50,000 high school soccer players sustained concussions in 2010 — more players than in baseball, basketball, softball and wrestling combined.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Teaching Peace in Elementary School

From The New York Times

By Julie Scelfo
November 14, 2015

For years, there has been a steady stream of headlines about the soaring mental health needs of college students and their struggles with anxiety and lack of resilience.

Now, a growing number of educators are trying to bolster emotional competency not on college campuses, but where they believe it will have the greatest impact: in elementary schools.

In many communities, elementary teachers, guidance counselors and administrators are embracing what is known as social and emotional learning, or S.E.L., a process through which people become more aware of their feelings and learn to relate more peacefully to others.

Feeling left out? Angry at your mom? Embarrassed to speak out loud during class? Proponents of S.E.L. say these feelings aren’t insignificant issues to be ignored in favor of the three R’s. Unless emotions are properly dealt with, they believe, children won’t be able to reach their full academic potential.

“It’s not just about how you feel, but how are you going to solve a problem, whether it’s an academic problem or a peer problem or a relationship problem with a parent,” said Mark T. Greenberg, a professor of human development and psychology at Pennsylvania State University.

Echoing the concept of “emotional intelligence,” popularized in the 1990s by Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book of the same name, he added, “The ability to get along with others is really the glue of healthy human development.”

Today’s schoolchildren confront not only the inherent difficulty of growing up, but also an increasingly fraught testing environment, a lower tolerance for physical acting out and the pervasive threat of violence. (President Obama last year characterized school shootings as “becoming the norm.”)

Poverty and income inequality, too, create onerous emotional conditions for many children.

“The neural pathways in the brain that deal with stress are the same ones that are used for learning,” said Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a research and teaching center. “Schools are realizing that they have to help kids understand their feelings and manage them effectively.”

He added, “We, as a country, want our kids to achieve more academically, but we can’t do this if our kids aren’t emotionally healthy.”

S.E.L., sometimes called character education, embraces not just the golden rule but the idea that everyone experiences a range of positive and negative feelings. It also gives children tools to slow down and think when facing conflicts, and teaches them to foster empathy and show kindness, introducing the concept of shared responsibility for a group’s well-being.

Studies have found that promoting emotional and social skills correlates with improved outcomes in students’ lives. A 2011 analysis of 213 S.E.L. programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students published in the journal Child Development found that the participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes and behavior compared with a control group, as well as an 11-point gain in academic achievement percentiles.

In a recent study, researchers from Penn State and Duke looked at 753 adults who had been evaluated for social competency nearly 20 years earlier while in kindergarten: Scores for sharing, cooperating and helping other children nearly always predicted whether a person graduated from high school on time, earned a college degree, had full-time employment, lived in public housing, received public assistance or had been arrested or held in juvenile detention.

Dr. Greenberg, a co-author of the study, saidhe was surprised by how much social competence outweighed other variables like social class, early academic achievement and family circumstances when it came to predicting outcomes. “That tells us that the skills underlying what we’re testing — getting along with others, making friendships — really are master skills that affect all aspects of life.”

Moreover, positive relationships, emotional competency and resilience have also been widely identified as helping to prevent mental illness.

At P.S. 130 in Brooklyn, where most students qualify for free lunch, a class of third graders recently sat in a circle and brainstormed, for the second day in a row, about steps they could take to prevent an aggressive boy in another class from causing problems during lunch and recess.

A 9-year-old girl said she “felt scared” when the boy chased and grabbed her; Leo, an 8-year-old with neon orange sneakers, described, with agitation, how the boy sat down, uninvited, at his table and caused so much commotion that it drew sanctions from a cafeteria aide.

“How does he really bother you?” a girl in a pink sweatshirt asked, seeking clarification, as she’d been taught.

“Because,” Leo responded, his voice swelling with indignation, “it took 10 minutes from recess!”

To advance the science and practice of S.E.L., researchers at Yale established the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning in 1994; under the leadership of Roger P. Weissberg, it moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1996.

Drawing on decades of research, the group set forth what it described as the five goals of S.E.L. for students:
  • Self-awareness: The ability to reflect on one’s own feelings and thoughts.
  • Self-management (or self-control): The ability to control one’s own thoughts and behavior.
  • Social awareness: The ability to empathize with others, recognize social cues and adapt to various situations.
  • Relationship skills: The ability to communicate, make friends, manage disagreements, recognize peer pressure and cooperate.
  • Responsible decision making: The ability to make healthy choices about one’s own behavior while weighing consequences for others.

Despite the growing demand for S.E.L., some worry that asking teachers to address feelings takes valuable time from academics. Vital subjects like science, history, art and music “are already starved for oxygen,” Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education policy group in Washington, wrote in an email.

“It’s easy to recognize the importance of S.E.L. skills. It’s much harder to identify and implement curricular interventions that have a measurable effect on them. Thus ‘what works’ tends to be defined as ‘what I like’ or ‘what I believe works.’”

Skeptics of using school time to tend to emotions might consider visiting P.S. 130, where the hallway outside a third-grade classroom is decorated with drawings made by students showing their aspirations for the current school year.

One child hopes “to make new friends.” Another wants to “be nice and help.”

And as for Leo, who is frustrated about losing 10 minutes of recess?

Underneath a watercolor self-portrait, in which his body is painted orange, he wrote: “My hope for myself this year is to get better at math.”

If S.E.L. strategies work, he will be better equipped to reach that goal.


Julie Scelfo is a former staff writer for The New York Times who writes often about human behavior.