Social Emotional LearningThis week, I attended an event at the Brookings Institute on The Future of Children. This event was brought to my attention by one of the members of our Coalition and I am so grateful there was opportunity to not just attend but participate in this very important exchange of ideas.

Truly an amazing insight in behavioral analysis, social emotional learning (SEL) is an evidence-based process that helps our youth get a head start in being conscious participants in creating the best versions of themselves.  In many ways, parents of children with disabilities that require behavioral therapy to assist our loved ones to overcome emotionally stressful milestones such as potty training or self-regulation are somewhat ahead of the curve in understanding the importance of interventions.  And while neuroscience has a long way to go to fully understanding condition such as autism and fragile x, one thing that remains at minimal debate is that behavioral therapy trumps medication when it comes to long-term curbing of undesirable behaviors, particularly in young children. The beauty of SEL is the dedicated commitment to producing sound evidence-based methods gathered from some of the country’s most esteemed scholars in early childhood education.

Based on a newly jointly published edition of the Princeton-Brookings “Future of Children” Journal, SEL was presented at the Brookings forum – attended by a packed house with an eager audience ready to engage in a dialogue led withleading experts that contributed to the Spring 2017 Research Report of the journal.  The central discussion was a on the possible impact of SEL on public health, the importance of effective SEL interventions in early childhood education, the need for SEL both inside and outside the classroom, and policies to improve teacher preparation and assessment.

This forum being my introduction to SEL theories, naturally, I zeroed on in on the “need for SEL both inside and outside the classroom” part. During and after the panel, I had the opportunity to engage with  a couple of the presenters, including Dr. Clark McKown and Dr. Tim Shriver.  In the case of Dr. McKown, it was encouraging to engage in discussion and benefit from his insight on the importance of parent participation. Both of these esteemed participants at the Brookings event are part of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), which is the world’s leading organization advancing the practice of promoting integrated academic, social, and emotional learning for all children in preschool through high school.

Dr. Shriver, a co-founder of CASEL, also serves as the co-chair of Special Olympics so our dialogue naturally drifted to discussing ways to engage children with disabilities and their families more actively in the SEL movement. It turns out the new Chancellor of DCPS, Antwan Wilson, has been part of the SEL movement with CASEL since he served as the Superintendent for Oakland Public Schools.  These are strong and promising points of connection that our Coalition will work to continuously engage with the District’s leaders in public education to find more measurable and sustainable methods of incorporating SEL both in and outside of the classroom; and available for all students. Specific to our children with disabilities, it was also warming to hear Dr. Shriver discuss the connection between physical activities/recreational sports and emotional development, of which there are exciting ideas percolating and look forward to fleshing out how these can form into affordable programs for our families, especially during the summer months in a city with few camp options for children with disabilities.

Perhaps our partnership with Georgetown to host parent engagement will also be a platform to collect data on the out-of-school time options for children with disabilities in the District and discover ways to close the gaps.  Although the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on ability, requiring after school programs, as well as all public schools and most child care centers and private schools, to develop a plan to make all facilities, programs and services available to all families, there remains several gaps in the District’s schools and other such organizations to be commitment to doing more than the bare minimal when it comes to ADA compliance. One of our key goals is to be an evidence-based advocacy organization, collecting primary data and using necessary secondary data to support our efforts to ensure the educational protection for our vulnerable children with disabilities – both in and out of school times.

At the Brookings event, Dr. McKown, a participant in the CASEL Assessment Work Group, offered some critical insight on how SEL can be come subject for dinner table discussion and the tools become useful for a variety of family structures across cultural and linguistic lines.  The Working Group, which is a multidisciplinary collaborative of leading researchers and practitioners in the fields of PreK-12 education, assessment, SEL, and related fields, also offers another space in which our Coalition can make an impact through scholarship and grassroots data collection.

As we further develop a relationship with CASEL and those that are part of its research and advocacy network, especially as it pertains to children with disabilities, the need for more a more cohesive coalition will become more critical. SEL offers a clear methodology of how District of Columbia classrooms can become inclusive environments, safe from bullying and other negative behaviors that some of our youth engage in that disproportionately target other young people with disabilities.  Thus it is a very exciting journey to learn more about evidence-based tools and assessments that include parents as active members of a school’s community of learning to increase the emotional intelligence in our children and ourselves! I look forward to more active engagement from our membership and expanding our reach throughout this great city of Washington, DC for the educational protection our children with disabilities.

In solidarity,

Chioma Mary Oruh, Ph.D.

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