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Region studies social, emotional learning at CMSD conference




CMSD, a national leader in social and emotional learning, is taking the mission beyond District borders.

The District hosted a regional SEL conference Thursday at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn. About 200 participants from education, criminal justice and social service agencies came to learn and share strategies for helping students cope with stress, anxiety and anger.

The audience included Brian Roget, interim director of the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Assessment. The state has SEL standards for early grades, but ODE is developing a plan for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It’s a key component,” he said. “You have to look at the whole child.”

School districts represented at the conference included Akron, Canton, Lakewood and Vermilion. Vermilion Superintendent Philip Pempin said the district plans to create a program that will help teachers work with a growing number of students who live in poverty. He said that while the community is known for lakefront living, up to half of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Teachers “are having to learn new skills and new strategies,” said Pempin, who was a CMSD principal and assistant superintendent before joining Vermilion 10 years ago. “Our staff has to grow into that.”

Morning speaker Zaretta Hammond is the author of “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.”

Hammond told her audience that all children can learn, but “the brain needs to be calm and ready.” She said teachers have to quit blaming families or a “culture of poverty” and focus on helping students build competence and confidence.

“Our children are bombarded with messages that they are ‘less than,’ ” she said. “They start to internalize that.”

Participants also attended small-group sessions led by presenters from CMSD, the American Institutes for Research, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning and PATHS Worldwide Education.

Cleveland is one of 10 large U.S. school districts that partner with CASEL. PATHS trains schools in a curriculum -- used by CMSD in preschool through fifth grade -- that helps children manage their emotions, make responsible decisions and build healthy relationships.

CMSD started its sweeping SEL program after high school student opened fire at the former SuccessTech Academy in 2007. The student wounded two teachers and two classmates before killing himself.

Then-Chief Executive Officer Eugene Sanders ordered security guards and metal detectors placed in schools but said the “hardware” did not get at the root cause of despair. Thus was born the program known as Humanware.

A year ago, the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development began its work by visiting Cleveland for two days. The commission is to produce recommendations for making social, emotional and academic learning “part of the fabric of every school” in the United States.

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