First and fifth grade students at the Yeshiva of Central Queens have been piloting a new Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum designed by Dr. Elana Dumont, Director of School Psychology.

The curriculum focuses on teaching students how to recognize and respond to stressors by learning techniques to alleviate stress, effective communication skills, managing their emotions more appropriately, and learning skills to reduce conflict. Students are learning practical skills including mindfulness, the mind-body connection, relaxation techniques, self-talk, and identifying strengths – all with a focus on resilience.

The program is delivered directly through classroom teachers with intensive support from Dr. Dumont and the counseling department. One example of the program in action happens each morning in the first grade classrooms. After t’filah, students begin the day by pointing at their “mood meters,” stickers with four quadrants of different emotions, and students share with the class how they’re currently feeling. Students recognize that it’s normal to feel multiple emotions at once and that it’s okay to not always have positive feelings.

A few weeks ago, students also made “calming jars,” bottles filled with liquid and glitter that act as an innovative mindfulness tool. “The jars help students visualize their emotions ‘swirling’ and then settling,” remarked Mrs. Allison Blass, Grade 1 Teacher. “Our students can focus on the swirling jars to help them be mindful and focus on something that allows them to calm down and breathe,” she added.

At one of their regular meetings with teachers, Dr. Dumont and Mrs. Elana Joffe, LMSW, YCQ’s Social Worker, most recently discussed methodology for teaching coping skills. The teachers shared positive feedback about SEL and how they – and their students – appreciate the program.

Grade 5 Teacher Mrs. Tali Hoffman said that “Our SEL program has been giving students important vocabulary to identify their feelings, express their feelings in a safe and healthy way, and shift away from unpleasant feelings.”

The program synthesizes elements from existing evidenced-based programs such as the RULER program from Yale University, Responsive Classroom, and Sean Covey’s “7 Habits of Happy Children.” In addition to the extremely important life skills students are receiving, research has shown that social-emotional learning is also directly linked with better academic performance.