Our Plan in Action: New Class Solidifies SEL Curriculum in Upper School

"Hello, neighbors! I like all my neighbors, especially those who like...ice cream!" The Media Room becomes a frenzy of activity as all the students in the room who identify with that statement leave their seats and attempt to find an empty one, in a new spin on musical chairs. 

The one girl left standing ends up leading the next round for the rest of her classmates. This game is part of the new HEART class in the Upper School, which is a new offering for fifth and sixth graders.
 
HEART — which stands for Health, Emotional Awareness, Responsibility, and Time Management — is helping these students continue the Social Emotional Learning curriculum they first picked up in the Lower School. While Upper Schoolers have participated in several of the SEL activities done by their younger peers, until now they were only a part of advisory. This is the first time that Burke's revitalized SEL curriculum has been codified in Upper School classrooms, which is advancing Goal #1 of the Strategic Plan.

"The HEART class came about in a discussion of how to more consistently and organically teach these skills in fifth and sixth grade," says Camilla Behnke, Upper School Counselor and class co-teacher. Her fellow instructors are Librarian Michelle Loomis, Makery Facilitator Susan Deemer, and Learning Specialist Ron Malek, who also touch on study skills, digital citizenship, and how to research.

"With the recent change in Library staffing, we had the opportunity to look at the way we used a period in the schedule that had been exclusively used for Library and decided to experiment with sharing the time flexibly among these four specialists," says Rebekah Wolman, Upper School Director. "The ultimate goal is to give the girls a strong foundation in all the skills mentioned in the acronym as well as to give them an opportunity to build relationships with these four specialists early in their time in Upper School."

The timing of the units differs between the two grades — for instance, Ms. Behnke spends seven to nine weeks in the classroom with students, but teaches sixth graders in the fall and fifth graders in the spring. Her curriculum, which includes the game mentioned above, is based on the Girl Meets World framework from Girls Leadership. "The goal of my time is to develop a climate of trust within the community of girls in which they can learn essential and important social-emotional life skills," she says. "The Girl Meets World curriculum teaches middle-school girls critical skills for authentic self-expression, emotional self-awareness, and interpersonal efficacy."

Meanwhile, fifth graders started out the year with lessons on how to handle the increased workload and responsibility of Upper School, including how to prioritize, study, and organize themselves. They also learned the basics of digital citizenship and logged on to Schoology, the Upper School's online learning management system, for the first time.

Ms. Loomis is also teaching a library-centric unit to fifth graders based on the novel Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko, which centers on a 13-year-old girl in early 1900s San Francisco. "Through a close reading of the book, we have investigated how understanding the experiences of others can guide our own actions. Students identified a number of dilemmas faced by characters in the novel and predicted how the story might have changed had different decisions been made," she says. "They were then asked to reflect on similar dilemmas in their own lives and the impact of their decisions."

It's a little too early yet to determine the impact of the HEART class on these students, but the aim is to help these Burke's girls build the appropriate foundations to continue maneuvering through the Upper School grades and high school.
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Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

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