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CPS' New Strategy For Student Achievement? Social Emotional Learning

Ambriehl Crutchfield
Ms. Jump teaches social emotional learning class to fifth grade students at Woodford Paidea Academy.

It's a bitter cold Tuesday in December when Cincinnati Public Schools Social Worker Kathleen Jump begins wrapping up a social emotional learning (SEL) class at Woodford Paideia Academy.

Fifth grader Kannen Adams was randomly selected to be Ms. Jump's helper for the day. Before the 20-minute class is over, the social worker instructs classmates and the teacher to say something nice about Kannen.

Then it's Kannen's turn to say something nice about himself.

"I mind my own business," he says.

"Facts," a classmate says under their breath.

In the SEL class, it's not uncommon to hear students saying, "I feel __."

Jump says "I statements" allow people to take ownership over their emotions instead of blaming others. She taught another group of students last year how to use the phrase.

"So, in time they're able to stop and think before acting out," she says. "Decreasing some of those problem behaviors that distract from learning."

Student performance in math and science used to be schools' focus to ensure future leaders can compete globally. Now schools throughout the nation and in Cincinnati are focusing on the whole student.

Jump helps elementary students work through their emotions and identify how other people feel.

Since certain schools implemented the social emotional learning programs, CPS says it's created an average 40% reduction in lost instructional time. The district has spent approximately $100,000 on PATH program materials, a national program that teaches pre-k through sixth grade students social and emotional skills. The program is currently being piloted in some schools to reduce discipline and improve academic achievement.

This year the program is being taught to 1,600 students, which is an expansion from last year.

City Beat reporting showed CPS is helping funnel African American youth into the juvenile justice system.

CPS Director of Positive School Culture Carrie Bunger says discipline and equity were on school officials' minds when implementing the program. "We are ultimately trying to decrease our discipline rates, increase attendance, and set students up for success so they do not go into the school to prison pipeline," she says.

Credit Ambriehl Crutchfeld / WVXU
Fifth graders Bryanna Jones and Addison Maxberry are learning social emotional skills every week in class.

CPS says the program is being taught in schools with high discipline rates, including Mount Airy, Fairview Clifton German Language and Woodford Paideia Academy.

The district is tracking how PATHS impacts students in the long run. PATHS is currently in five schools and the district is looking for ways to incorporate it in high schools.

National research shows social emotional skills helps students succeed.

Social workers have a designated 15-20-minute window once or twice a week to drop in and teach PATHS. During that time, they're also modeling to teachers how to lead the class. After the first year, it's the teacher's responsibility. Jump says she's heard from teachers that making time for PATHS and other curriculums is challenging.

Bunger says teachers go through SEL training at the beginning of the year but aren't required to do more.

Kannen's classmate, Addison Maxberry, says she tries to teach her "annoying little brother" (who also takes PATHS) the social emotional skills she learns in class, but she still wants to yell at him.

After the interview is over, Ms. Jump says this may be a good scenario for her next lesson plan.

An earlier version of this article misidentified how many schools PATHS is in. The program is in five schools.