School District’s social-emotional curriculum proving even more critical during pandemic

Reporter | September 23, 2020 1:00 AM

After an abrupt end to in-person learning last spring and a new normal for school this fall, Whitefish School District’s social-emotional curriculum is playing an important role for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The school district has spent the last four years developing and implementing a social-emotional wellness curriculum specific to each school. The programs differ between Muldown Elementary, the middle school and Whitefish High School, but all have similarities in promoting exceptional qualities in students. 

The foundation of that social-emotional curriculum is assisting students, according to district administrators. 

“The trauma associated with COVID, whether its death that people are experiencing in their immediate or associated family, whether it is quarantine, whether it is the unknown or the uncertainty of how things will play out — all of those things are contributing on different levels,” Whitefish Curriculum Director Ryder Delaloye said during a school board meeting earlier this month.

Delaloye said the programs in each school have all had focus revolving around ways to deal with emotions and social complexities caused by the global pandemic.

“These (curriculums specific to each school) are targeted interventions that directly address the needs of our students and it may require us to deviate a little bit from the more scripted or formalized social-emotional learning curriculum, but we have a foundation and we have a structure by which to meet those needs.”

During the school board meeting, a representative from each school presented specific traits of their school’s social-emotional curriculum. The lessons even vary by grade level to zero in on the challenges kids face at different ages.

At Muldown Elementary, school behavior coach Brianna Schuttler explained the implementation of the school’s “Getting Along Together” program.

She said that school counselors, along with herself, will often go into a classroom and teach the social-emotional lesson — they have also made video lessons to ease the extra stress it could put on teachers and allow for remote implementation of the curriculum as well.

Schuttler said some of the main ideas of Muldown’s social-emotional lessons are learning how to focus, learning how to use the peace path, active listening, stopping and thinking, and improving memory.

Whitefish Middle School counselor Lacy Eccles detailed out the main steps the school took this fall in order to implement its key behavioral program called “Second Step.” 

Eccles said this year they rebuilt some of the social-emotional lessons to be focused around coming back together while dealing with the potential losses that COVID-19 created by the way school ended in the spring.

“It focuses on friendship, recognizing personal and community values and how we solve problems as a community,” Eccles said.

According to Whitefish High School assistant principal Jeff Peck, the high school began implementing its social-emotional program, dubbed “Basecamp,” last year when students requested more information about specific grade level uniquenesses to help navigate that particular calendar year with more support, confidence and success.

“So now what we have is a flex period where kids get grade-level specific practical information to help them,” Peck said. “We also get an infusion of character education along with emotional intelligence that not only helps them become a more well rounded student here at Whitefish High, but a better citizen.”

Peck explained this year with the hybrid schedule, it was important for the school to allow each student to experience their basecamp class period in-person, not remotely. The first few social-emotional lessons this fall have focused around COVID-19 hardships and detailing out new expectations so every student feels confident coming to school this year.

“The whole curriculum is really founded in the concept of having relevant discussions with students in a way that students know that they’re at a school that has their back, that cares about their future,” Peck said.

Although each of Whitefish’s schools began implementing social-emotional learning curriculums prior to this school year, the district says, the skills taught through these programs are now proving effective as students learn to handle the uncertainties around attending school during a global pandemic.