In the Sacramento City Unified School District the priorities are to nuture a strong relationship-focused community for teaching and learning and to develop core social and emotional learning (SEL) skills for students and adults—within the context of addressing inequities. SEL values are embraced through the district’s SEL vision statement: “Our schools and communities nurture and maintain a positive environment where children, families, and staff acquire the knowledge to be successful, the compassion and values to care about others, and the skills to be responsible citizens.” A dedicated team supports all schools to build and sustain systemic SEL implementation and integration.
Using the CASEL school guide, the district has trained 60 percent of its 75 schools on SEL schoolwide implementation. Most of these schools have developed SEL leadership structures and a clear vision and purpose, and are using a curriculum to teach SEL skills. They also are integrating SEL into their school culture and climate. The district aims to expand SEL teaching and practice to the remaining 40 percent of schools and deepen professional learning for all stakeholders.
SEL in Sacramento
Explicit skills development. A primary focus is to use an evidenced-based curriculum to develop core SEL competencies and skills, especially the following standards: We Are (self-awareness and self-management), We Belong (social awareness and relationship skills), and We Can (responsible decision-making and growth mindset). The district uses Second Step, School Connect, Caring School Communities, the Leader In Me, and Meet Up/Buddy Up. In addition, some schools use Zoo U online gaming as a Tier 2 intervention for students who need additional and specific skills reinforcement and re-teaching.
Integration into academics. As the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for students to have skills such as being able to persevere in solving difficult problems, collaborate, construct viable arguments, and critique the reasoning of others, SEL skills help students master this deeper engagement and learning. The district has developed CCSS curriculum maps for English Language Arts and Math, explicitly identifying related SEL skills. In addition, SEL skills are embedded in the district’s college and career readiness graduate profile, which will serve as a guide for students’ successful matriculation.
Integration into instructional practices. SEL is integral to the teaching and learning process. At the core of all professional learning for teachers and staff in SCUSD is a strong emphasis on the power of relationships in the classroom. Sacramento teachers are trained to teach to the “whole child,” with an emphasis on using growth-mindset and affective language to support students. Some teachers also use “community circles” to build a sense of community and deepen a culture of connectivity in their classrooms.
Integration into climate/culture and community engagement. SEL is a significant part of the district’s work in several areas.
- SEL is the Tier 1 universal support to prevent bullying. SEL skills and curriculum are integrated into the bullying trainings that are mandated for all school leaders and staff at most school sites.
- Given the district’s Whole Child resolution and new board policies on discipline and positive schoolwide climate, SEL is a critical part of restorative practices (RP) and positive behavior intervention and support (PBIS) approaches to school climate. The district’s new administrative regulations will bring stronger coherence to the necessary and important integration of these approaches.
- Sacramento is committed to meaningfully engaging families and community partners. Along with its annual SEL summit, which aims to create better awareness and connection with partners, training sessions are available to community partners throughout the year. The Parent Teacher Home Visit project and Academic Parent Teacher Teams help strengthen relationships with parents. SEL staff also contribute to the district’s Parent Leadership Academy, a multi-tiered parent leadership program. Individual school sites also communicate SEL in a variety of ways to their parents, such as through newsletters, Second Step family letters, and parent nights. For example, Mary Alvarez-Jett, principal of Edward Kemble Elementary School, reports, “I do my back-to-school night before school starts with a get-to-know-you BBQ for families and teachers. On the first day of school I talk about the importance of SEL with the students and teachers. At the beginning of each week I lead a schoolwide meeting to discuss the SEL focus of the week, then I do a ‘connect-ed’ call to parents to share the SEL focus of the week with them.”
The district has extensive qualitative evidence of impact. Educators speak to the “moral imperative,” the necessity of “teaching to the whole child,” the value of “foundational skills for school, college, career, and life,” and “the importance of just being SEL.” Sacramento also is administering a survey instrument that will provide quantitative data on students’ SEL development and growth, as well as their sense of safety, belonging, and connectivity. District leaders believe SEL is one of several factors that contributed to improved outcomes in several areas in the past four years:
- Bullying incidents down 18.2%
- Graduation rates up 6.4% to 85%
- Overall supports/engagement up 12 points and 16 points in two high schools, according to the 2014 School Climate Report Card
In a study conducted for CASEL, the CDI’s independent evaluator determined that, since implementation:
- Among elementary school students, attendance increased in all years of CDI implementation.
- SEL implementation was significantly associated with reductions in elementary school suspensions.
“A student who feels better connected to a school and better connected to a classroom and learning is apt to come to school more regularly. There are two sides of education, the academic and the social-emotional. You need both to be successful.” Jose Banda, Superintendent
“There’s this shift in how we engage with our families and our students. SEL really was a great vehicle to allow for that shift to happen. It’s just much more understanding of students, the situations they find themselves in. Through the humanity of teaching and learning, we really connect with kids and families and we’re doing it all together. We’re doing it with kids instead of to kids.” Doug Huscher, Interim Assistant Superintendent of Equity
“What I’ve learned is that if you’re just standing there when you see someone getting bullied and you start laughing, too, you’re part of the bullying. But when you step up and say something to the bully, ‘Stop messin’ with him or her,’ you’re part of the solution.” Juan, Student, Elder Creek Elementary School
Watch the power of mentoring in the Photovoice Project, a powerful component of the SCUSD SEL Project with SEL mentors and middle school students. Photovoice allows students to put into practice and show SEL lessons with their own voices and from their own perspectives. Students take photos of life experiences that motivate them, demonstrate their strengths, show how they can be advocates to those who are bullied, and reflect their favorite SEL lessons. This is followed by a group discussion for deeper reflection and stronger, more meaningful connections with lessons.
Read the Sacramento Bee’s story of how the School of Engineering and Sciences is dealing with bullying.