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[From Our Archives] Helping an Urban Preparatory School Increase Mindfulness

By Charlotte DeVaughn in Collaboration with Yuqi Wu

Photo by Mary Taylor


After over a year of dealing with the stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic and navigating distanced learning, many schools are seeing decreases in student motivation, a rise in poor academic outcomes and the escalation of mental health issues, all of which have the ability to contribute to a negative school climate. While the unprecedented nature of the pandemic affected individual schools differently, it highlighted a major issue at the foundation of the education system: schools are ill-prepared to discuss and understand mental health in the classroom. While many schools are eager to better equip themselves for dealing with mental health issues, it can be difficult to find practical ways to support educators in delivering timely, impactful mental health education, resources, and services that are effective for a school’s most vulnerable and marginalized students.


Looking for original ways to incorporate mental health awareness into their curriculum, a D.C. public school sought to increase mindfulness through Effective To Great Education’s social emotional learning (SEL) technology. The SEL pilot targets unhealthy school climate by putting cultural trauma-informed social emotional learning and mindfulness at the center of curriculum. The SEL pilot was a program that met virtually for one hour per week with Effective to Great Education founder Laura Thomas. A regular SEL pilot session started with discussion on a current topic, identifying key concepts of SEL. This was usually paired with a fun game or activity that helped students understand definitions and apply key concepts. The goal of the program was to increase mindfulness and open the door to conversations about mental health in the classroom.


Over the course of eight weeks, Effective to Great Education monitored the implementation of the social emotional learning technology pilot. Through questionnaires and interviews with students, parents, teachers and faculty, Effective to Great Education was able to assess the program’s short-term impact of the pilot at this D.C. public school. Data from the pre- and post surveys showed the most improvement in the area of self-management, one of the key competencies in The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)’s framework. After just eight weeks, students showed an increase in their emotional awareness with more students strongly agreeing with the statement “I want to help people who are being treated unfairly” and more students disagreeing with the statement “I find it silly when some people suddenly cry”. Students raved about their abilities to talk about emotions. In the interviews, 100% of parents said that their child communicates with family more than before the student joined the SEL pilot. Additionally, all parents said they were willing to let their children take the SEL pilot next term. The eight-week pilot had tremendous outcomes. ETGE hopes to expand this program at other schools across the country.


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