LAYTON, Utah — As the mental health impacts of the pandemic continue to be seen in young adults and kids throughout the country, the Davis School District is prioritizing the emotional wellbeing of its students through a new program called "social and emotional learning," or SEL.
SEL is a concept that focuses on developing skills often overlooked in traditional academic settings, which tend to emphasize academic success and content retention. SEL teaches students skills like stress management, self-awareness and relationship development among others.
"It is empowering not only kids, but adults as well to be able to be successful in the schools as well as just in life," said Nicole Deaton, a health teacher at Shoreline Junior High School in Layton.
Deaton has been a teacher for more than two decades. She said this new approach to learning is giving kids the best foundation for a successful and healthy life, both in and outside of the classroom.
"Sometimes they are referred to as soft skills," Deaton said, referring to SEL skills like social awareness, empathy and responsible decision making. "Some of the skills that some kids are graduating with and not having those skills. They are graduating, but not having the skills to be successful."
The Davis School District implemented SEL at the start of the 2019 school year.
"From that point forward, we decided we wanted to focus on our employees," said Kathleen Chronister, the social and emotional learning director for the district. "So, all of last school year our focus was on employees and helping them build their own SEL skills and strategies."
This is the first year it's being brought into the classroom. Deaton said the lessons are more important now than ever.
"The number of kids that I teach that have anxiety disorders and are dealing with depression, I think that's part of what caused this to be implemented in schools," she said.
"SEL helps to identify specific skills and strategies to help us really manage those things," Chronister added.
One recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that lack of social and emotional learning is "increasingly recognized as central to many public health problems," including substance abuse, obesity and violence.
"It's kids before content," Deaton said. "The content that we teach is very important but we're teaching kids. We're teaching kids and we need those kids to be successful in our content as well."
The Davis School District's goal is to have SEL taught in all district classrooms in the next year-and-a-half.