Last Day School

Monocacy Elementary School prekindergarten teacher Charis Loomer gives her student Braemar Parrish a hug before the end of the last day of classes.

Almost a year after the first Frederick County classrooms were introduced to social-emotional learning (SEL) through a social-emotional learning program, leaders in education and politics are looking to expand it.

The PATHS program — or Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies — was first piloted in nine classrooms at Monocacy Elementary School during the 2018-2019 school year.

The evidence-based program teaches children skills such as self-awareness, self-management and relationship building, and decision-making. Teachers hold PATHS sessions twice a week in the classroom; each session runs about 30 minutes.

According to a report published by FCPS in December, PATHS was employed because research and studies showed it “positively impacted behavioral and academic outcomes” of students.

Board member Joy Schaefer said social-emotional learning is critical to learning.

“Students need be able to successfully regulate their feelings and emotions in order to be present and ready in the classroom to learn,” she said.

After success at Monocacy Elementary in the first year, FCPS decided to expand the program and implement it in all pre-K through second-grade classrooms this school year as well as school-wide at Monocacy Elementary.

Troy Barnes, principal at Monocacy Elementary, said he has seen the positive impact PATHS has on students.

“We saw a significant decrease in referrals in the classrooms that implemented PATHS last school year,” Barnes said in an email. “Students are consistently using the language from the curriculum to state how they are feeling and are beginning to use the strategies. ... That promotes emotional regulation.”

Barnes’ comments complement the data gathered after the pilot year, which focused on fourth-graders. During the pilot year, PATHS was implemented in all fourth-grade classrooms.

The FCPS report stated that after PATHS implementation, the percentage of fourth-grade students who met or exceeded expectations for English Language Arts increased by more than 28 percent. With math, that number increased by more than 52 percent.

The largest impact seen, however, related to behavior. FCPS reported that in the three months prior to PATHS implementation, 177 behavioral-related referrals were written in the school. After PATHS implementation, the number of referrals written dropped to 27 for the remainder of the school year.

Additionally, Monocacy Elementary saw a decrease in the number of incidents related to physical aggression.

Due to the many positive results after the first field studies, Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) has decided to propose expanding the program when the Legislature reconvenes this month.

Pippy wants to see the program implemented throughout FCPS in grades pre-K through sixth.

He saw firsthand the effects of the program while visiting Monocacy Elementary.

“[The program] gave students a breather. It gave them an opportunity to interact with their peers in a non-hyper competitive atmosphere where they could talk about feelings,” Pippy said.

He admits there will be a cost with such an implementation — teachers will have to be trained and materials will need to be bought — but Pippy feels the cost is low compared with the lifelong impact it will have on students. The initial projection from the December report was a little more than $240,000.

“I think it’s worthwhile because we need to look at not only providing students with the academic tools to succeed but also the emotional tools so that they can deal with stress,” Pippy said. “If we can address this at a younger age, I think that our young people will have more productive lives.”

Schaefer, who sits on the task force charged with researching the program and monitoring its impact, said she and others are appreciate Pippy’s push for expansion.

“His legislation to expand the PATHS program comes from a deep understanding of its importance to our students and our need as a system to comprehensively meet their needs,” Schaefer said.

Barnes agreed and called SEL the “foundation of learning.”

“Social-emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of success than an IQ score. Our world, community, and society depends on schools developing social-emotional intelligence in order for our society to prosper,” Barnes said, adding that expansion of the program is vital for the success of future generations.

When asked how the transition to school-wide implementation unfolded this year, Barnes said it was smooth and successful.

“Teachers began picking up the momentum for school-wide implementation last school year. ... The synergy created from this program has been contagious,” Barnes said. “Teachers who implemented the program last year are finding the curriculum easier to navigate and the ability to create multidisciplinary connections.”

The Monocacy Elementary principal, who has been an educator for 20 years, said he feels without a doubt that children today are in more need of social-emotional learning than before and that it is important going forward that education focuses on the “whole child.”

“Technology has consumed our lives. ... Heightened safety concerns in our communities and society prohibit students from developing conflict resolution skills,” Barnes said. “We are in a new era and must begin to shift our educational platform to better meet the demands of our society and the needs of our students.”

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter: @katrynajill.

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