News from the Field: Social-Emotional Learning at Egyptian CUSD #5

At Egyptian Community Unit School District #5, social-emotional learning has been a key element of our 21st CCLC program, which serves students in elementary, middle, and high school. Our partners at Southern Illinois University’s College of Education and Human Services help us make this happen. 

In our 21st CCLC, we see social-emotional competency as part of the foundation of students’ academic achievement and try to give them opportunities to develop social-emotional knowledge in a range of settings. During our summer program, for example, students participated in in-depth exploration of issues like bullying, homelessness, racism, and personal space. As the day began, the entire group of students explored a topic together, followed by a small group activity or discussion. After that discussion, the topic or theme was integrated into the academic enrichment that took place during the day. Not isolating the topic to a defined time period encouraged students to discover new perspectives and continue their own reflections and observations.

The blend of ages in our program has inspired us to create an informal mentoring program that has helped our students with social-emotional learning. A few years ago, in response to restlessness among middle and high school students in our summer program, we decided to pair older students with lower elementary students so that both groups would be more engaged in the program. This informal pairing has created a more positive learning environment for students of all ages. The older students realized they were role models and adopted more positive behavior, while the younger students benefitted from having a role model. We have been so pleased with the results of this strategy that we have continued it during the school year, making a point of pairing older and younger students in a variety of activities.

We have also created an environment that helps students develop everyday habits that lay the groundwork for academic learning and success outside of school. We try to offer opportunities for learning basic life skills that may not receive consistent attention at home—and the progress is evident. For example, even our youngest students, who often eat breakfast at school, now have the habit of throwing away their trash and cleaning up the cafeteria space after they eat. Other routines, like lining up to walk to lunch or another area, now go more smoothly as well.

We credit our 21st CCLC program’s student-centered environment and project-based learning with cultivating these good habits. As students played a greater role in their own learning, they soon discovered the importance of everyday habits: they need a clean cafeteria if they are going to work on a project in that space; they need to form an orderly line if they want to move on to the next fun activity. Instead of seeing these tasks as punishment or chores, students see these behaviors as essential to the fun and engaging work ahead. 

The positive outcomes of our social-emotional learning programming are not limited to 21st CCLC activities. Students who adopted the practice of cleaning up after themselves during our program day have continued to do so during school hours. Similarly, teachers report an easier time getting students to to line up and do other everyday tasks that are necessary for learning. Egyptian CUSD #5 teachers also have carried over some of our broader social-emotional learning activities into the school day, continuing the practice of discussing a topic early in the morning and letting students address it in different ways throughout the day.

Afterschool provides an ideal environment to explore social-emotional learning, and if we are successful, our students will carry the rewards of social-emotional knowledge through all of their academic and personal journeys.