SEL at Home: J.P. Ryon Elementary School Maintains Consistency During Virtual Learning

Over the past 2 months, schools have shifted teaching and learning in a way they have never done before. From solving problems like access to devices and the internet, to innovating new ways to deliver content, track attendance, and engage parents, it feels like there have been more changes in the past 2 months than in the past 10 years! 

Hear from some of our partner schools to learn more about how they have been facilitating social emotional skills for elementary students remotely. We hope you gather some ideas to help support your school communities, too! 

J.P Ryon Elementary School in Maryland started implementing Move This World during the 2019-2020 school year. When school closures caused by COVID-19 required a rapid shift to distance learning, they knew they had to include social emotional learning into their virtual instruction. We spoke with Vice Principal Scott Hangey and Principal Dr. Melinda Johnson to learn more about how they’ve shifted to virtual social emotional learning for their elementary students.

MTW: What does virtual learning look like in your school community right now? 

Mr. Hangey and Dr. Johnson: Connectedness, in our opinion, is vital to allow our community members to nurture and support each other during this unprecedented time. This school year, our school established school and community announcements via our intranet every morning, at the beginning of each school day. We utilized scholars as anchors and announcers during these programs. This not only exposed scholars to real-world applicable opportunity but it supports a strong level of communication for a positive school culture and climate that includes scholar voice and choice. 

When schools were closed across the state, we switched to a virtual morning announcement. Administration realized the importance of maintaining some level of normalcy and connecting with scholars each day virtually. Our scholars thrive on face-to-face connections and we value this connection. To start each broadcast, we have a video with a greeting and words of encouragement from our principal, Dr. Melinda Johnson, and an inspirational musical moment. The music has been selected by staff and our principal and at times scholar requests are played to brighten the morning. We continue with the pledge of allegiance, the J.P. Ryon Cardinal Scholar Creed (recorded by Vice Principal Barnett), a weather forecast, a Move This World video segment, special announcements about monthly/weekly celebrations, scholar’s birthday celebrations, and community special announcements. The broadcast ends with a thought for the day around our Monthly Cardinal Core Character Value, and our catch phrase, “When they go low, we fly high!”, reminding scholars that Cardinals have Honor! Integrity! Grit! And Hope! 

Vice Principal Hangey organizes each segment of the morning announcements and closes out with a thought of the day. Each morning news program is sent via school messenger text message, posted on our website, Twitter page, and on our school’s YouTube site for our subscribers. We have learned that our morning announcements are a valuable communication resource for the entire J.P. Ryon community to keep us informed and connected. The convenient access that we provide enables our families to have this resource right in the palm of their hand on their cell phones, tablets, computers, and other devices.

The Move This World video segments that we use are from YouTube videos created by the founder of Move This World, Sara Potler LaHayne. We are hopeful that we will be able to include additional content from Move This World, as we move forward.

MTW: What does SEL look like in your community right now? 

Mr. Hangey and Dr. Johnson: Not only does our school do morning announcements, we are a distribution center for meals and learning packets to our scholars and their families. We realize that SEL matters now more than ever for the entire school community. This includes scholars and their families. We are facing unprecedented times and families need strategies to manage the many emotions that may arise due to the impact of the pandemic. Our scholars and families are provided with the opportunity to engage in Move This World breathing exercises each day. Additionally, we conducted a virtual parent meeting in the beginning of May and our counselors presented strategies for Self-Care and Coping Skills. We featured Kendall Sweeney, Move This World’s Program Director, to provide information on the research and SEL strategies offered in this program. Participants closed out the session with a guided breathing exercise to support mental health and received the resources via email for additional support. These resources included the Move This World charts for home use.

MTW: How has Move This World impacted your students? 

Mr. Hangey and Dr. Johnson: Since beginning the use of Move This World’s resources, our scholars have utilized Emoger charts for identifying how they are feeling. The scholars were also able to utilize breathing techniques for calming down when they entered my office upset with another student. The Emoji charts are a great means of scholars identifying and then constructively dealing with a problem that they encounter.

Charts are displayed throughout the building and in each classroom. Scholars are also able to utilize breathing techniques for calming down when conflict arises and when they need a scheduled or self-selected break. We utilize “chill” passes and scholars often were heard using the language from the videos and charts to talk out their conflict or issue. Our Principal and Vice Principals have conducted mediation conferences with scholars and have been able to point to the charts posted in their offices for a supportive dialogue to address scholar needs. One time, in particular, a scholar shared that he told his mother he needed a drink of water when a situation arose at home that required him to take a minute for himself. This scholar’s mother confirmed this story in a meeting later.  Additionally, teachers posted comments in the school chat several instances when scholars shared that these strategies worked for them at home. The charts are a great visual aid to support scholars with self-regulation and managing emotions when conflict inevitably arises. 

MTW: What advice do you have for other schools that want to help families’ practice SEL at home right now, over the summer or next year?

Mr. Hangey and Dr. Johnson: We were very fortunate that during a recent virtual PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meeting, Ms. Kendall Sweeney, Move This World’s Program Director, spoke directly to our parents and answered questions about the concepts and content of the Move This World program.

We hope to continue programming over the summer and into the next school year. Our advice is for school leaders and staff to continue to explore ways to creatively keep their rituals and routines in place virtually and in-person. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know our scholars and their reliance on a strong home-school connection. We’re continuing to instill core values and provide SEL supports each day. Parents have an arsenal of tools to access even when the last day of school comes. Our resources are located and accessible on our website, YouTube channel, and social media pages. Access and convenience is the key during this time. SEL matters for everyone. Move This World offers a common language and research-based approach for all.

Thanks you, Mr. Hangey and Dr. Johnson, for sharing more about how you are continuing to Move This World!

This time of school closures has brought unprecedented challenges for all of us, and schools have had to shift to remote learning very quickly. Our partner schools have navigated those challenges with SEL at the forefront of their work, and we hope their stories give you ideas about supporting SEL programs in your school community, too! 

Are you ready to implement social emotional learning in your district or school? Share your information and we’ll be in touch!

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