• Suzanne Nason

Garfield Preparatory Academy Embraces SEL and Each Learner’s Right to Feel Loved

Pure Edge has partnered with Garfield Preparatory Academy in Washington, D.C., to bring Culture of Care training to educators and learners.

As the school day begins, the halls of Garfield Preparatory Academy are still. In the classrooms, the loudspeakers project a calm voice directing students and staff to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Once following the morning announcements and once at the end of the school day, the whole school sits quietly for a “Mindful Minute.” The goal, to help educators and learners start each day with calm and focus. In the afternoon, the minute allows listeners to cool down and end the day with a sense of peace.

Garfield Prep is one of five schools within D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) that have received Pure Edge’s Culture of Care training.

Concerned with the prevalence of absences, suspensions and altercations between students, Principal Kennard Branch felt that it was time to adopt a new approach. He and his leadership team implemented a shift toward social and emotional learning after reviewing the behavioral and attendance data. “That was like an ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said. The educators and administrators at Garfield know their learners face a high number of challenges outside of school. No matter how advanced their math skills or how many languages they speak, how can learners be expected to sit still and focus if they come to school hungry, or without a coat on a cold day? School psychologist Chandrai Jackson-Saunders explained, “We said, ‘we are going to look at behavior as content, just like we do reading and math.’”

Another element of the focus on SEL has been to introduce “calming centers” into classrooms.

Each educator has created a space in the classroom where learners can manage stress and challenging emotions. Kia McCardell, a math instructor with ten years of experience, was especially energized when speaking about SEL. She told us that she could go on forever about her ideas for her classroom or the books and research that inform her teaching. For her, it comes down to each learner’s right to feel loved. As she became more knowledgeable about SEL, Ms. McCardell’s mission was to transform her entire classroom into a calming center, as a way to provide an atmosphere where students can feel safe, loved and calm.

Megan Callahan, a third-year special education teacher, spends each school day at Garfield with the same eight students. She is one of the teachers who embody the school’s commitment to SEL. She helps learners understand their feelings, and once they’ve identified them, work to manage them. To Ms. Callahan, educating the whole child means meeting students where they are. It also means that educators do their best to recognize challenges learners face with basic needs or the at-home struggles they may face. She shared that SEL offers learners and educators alike “the ability to cope with the world around them.”

Katie Larkin, Superintendent for Cluster I at DCPS, described the educators and staff at Garfield Prep as “a group that knows every single child, that will fight for every single child and that will make sure every single child feels loved.” As a result of this commitment to social and emotional learning, Principal Branch now believes that when you walk through Garfield, “You can see, hear and feel learning taking place.”

 

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