State Superintendent Michael Rice speaks with students at Ferndale High School, including senior Sadorian Robertson, during a visit Thursday, Jan. 30. Photo: Bill Good
As part of a series of statewide visits to local school districts, State Superintendent Michael Rice made a trip to Ferndale Jan. 30.
Rice stopped at Ferndale Upper Elementary School and High School during his visit. A big part of his visits was taking in Ferndale Public Schools’ Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum.
SEL is the teaching of social and emotional development skills. The district views these in the same way as teaching math and science, in that they can be taught and developed over time and are important to help students reach their full potential.
Ferndale Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction Dina Rocheleau said that students from kindergarten to 12th grade have 30 minutes of explicit instruction on these essential skills every day, though the level of instruction is different based on the grade.
“We set out on this journey to really think about moving from a traditional approach of work in school to an approach of community and relationships, and really taking the time to listen to our children, to facilitate conversations and help them with (developing) their social awareness, their self-awareness, their self-management, their relationships and how to be responsible,” she said.
Rice said he had heard good things about the SEL program in Ferndale and wanted to see firsthand what it was about. The state superintendent saw social and emotional learning as a valuable and growing area.
On expanding SEL throughout the state, Rice believed that everyone can learn from one another, and he sees a benefit to sharing stories like this across Michigan.
“What works in one district may not work in another,” he said. “What might be acceptable or exemplary in one district may not be so in another, but people should be aware of the great things that others are doing so that they can reflect on how best to serve their children in their communities.”
While visiting both schools, Rice took time to speak with groups of students to hear their thoughts on education and their experiences in school. He said that he walked away impressed with the kids.
Rice also walked away impressed with Ferndale’s SEL teachings, believing SEL to be “powerful” and saying that many schools don’t work with kids in this domain, and kids are adversely affected by the absence of those skills.
Ferndale started with SEL teachings at one of its schools — Roosevelt Elementary — in 2004 but expanded it to the entire district around 2013.
Rocheleau said that the district’s staff feels this better helps them establish relationships with students and support them at all levels. She also said that the district is continuously hearing from students each year on how the SEL teachings can improve.
“We do three surveys every year at every grade level, and we get input from students about if they’re feeling safe, how’s their stress level, and we use that data to make changes,” she said.
Rice said that he doesn’t have any preconceived notion of how SEL is best administered, but he does think that schools shouldn’t just be about core academics.
“We don’t assume children know algebra when they spring from the womb,” he said. “We know that they don’t know algebra. We have to teach them algebra. We have to teach them this, as well. It can be woven into core content, into social studies for example, into math, into science, into language arts, but it has to be taught. Kids need to experience it, kids need to learn it, kids need to work with one another on it.”