MSW Students Provide SEL Training to Area District Teachers
In support of the implementation of Canutillo Independent School District’s AC+ION student assistance program, the UTEP Department of Social Work is providing training in social-emotional learning for teachers and administrators across the district’s 10 campuses during the 2021-22 academic year.
CISD administrators recently approached the Department with a request to provide specialized training in social-emotional learning (SEL) throughout the new academic year, recognizing that SEL training was essential to the long-term success of AC+ION, an initiative adapted from the evidence-based SAMHSA Student Assistance Program aiming to support students identified as exhibiting risk factors that interfere with their emotional success. Students are referred to AC+ION by teachers, parents, peers, or self-referral. Through a series of targeted interventions, the program aims to support students as they learn to address issues they are facing and build the skills necessary to succeed in school.
CISD was especially interested in building knowledge around SEL as students returned to campuses following after a year-and-a-half of distance learning due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Dr. Monica Reyes, CISD executive director of Student Support Services, stated:
“We have been developing this program since April 2020, realizing that our students would need more support with behavioral health during this ongoing public crisis. I am so excited to be rolling out this new initiative with our strong partner from UTEP and its extraordinary caliber of social work interns and students, to truly support our stakeholders – students, families, teachers and staff.”
Rosario Olivera, MSW program coordinator and Social Work lecturer, and four MSW students in her independent study section created the specialized SEL training utilizing concepts from the national nonprofit Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and delivered the first session to Gonzalo and Sofia Garcia Elementary School teachers in late July. CASEL (2020) defines SEL as the process through which children understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.
Olivera discussed how the training is different than what teachers have been previously been exposed to regarding SEL, specifically with regard to development of tools within the training itself. “We call this training ‘The Golden Thread,’ during which the facilitator(s) and teachers co-design tools and resources for a paradigmatic shift for building a new culture of social and emotional wellness,” she said. “This incredibly immersive training is meant to instill the importance of social emotional awareness in education.”
Melody Gomez, MSW candidate and participant in the SEL training for CISD, mentioned the underlying rationale behind the development of the AC+ION program and the corresponding SEL training: “The premise is that meeting the vulnerability of change with love and grace yields critical connections and authentic intimacy in order to make paradigmatic changes in the way that we relate to one another.”
Dayanira Rodriguez, fellow CISD SEL trainer and MSW candidate, was particularly impressed by how the experience challenged her to apply macro theory from her own studies in “real-world” school settings.
“In our Organizational Theory Class with Ms. Olivera, we talked about systems and the way in which they operate. However, learning the theoretical and experiencing it first-hand are two very different things,” she said. “Getting to be a part of a school system and really breaking down the way in which it runs has been such a great experience. My time at CISD has allowed me to further develop my skills in macro social work.”
While the training targets at-risk school children in CISD, Olivera added that teachers can also benefit. “In the social work profession, we talk a lot about burn out and prevention, and I believe that SEL can aid in the battle against burn out in teachers. By aiding in the development of social awareness and response in children we are empowering them so that they can better regulate themselves in the classroom. This, in turn, is meant to give teachers more time to focus on the academics and less on the behavioral.”
For more information about the Master of Social Work program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/sw.