Social and emotional learning, or SEL, has always been integral to helping Shorewood students succeed. With the impact of Covid-19, SEL has become more essential than ever.
Anticipating that the pandemic would significantly impact students’ mental health and well-being, Shorewood Intermediate School staff began last spring to research SEL programs that could help improve student connectedness as well as school-wide relationships.
“We had actually been wanting to address issues of connectedness for some time,” says SIS Dean of Students Moriah Weingrod. “Covid-19 forced us to make a big change quickly in how we were supporting our students, especially during a time when we were not meeting in person.”
Weingrod and her team decided on Project Wayfinder. A complete and culturally responsive SEL and mental health curriculum, Project Wayfinder is based in design thinking and creative exploration, and engineered to help students find meaning in today’s world.
Project Wayfinder’s “Belonging” curriculum provides interactive lesson plans for educators to help students explore the concept of belonging with themselves, each other and the wider world. Each lesson includes background on a topic, hands-on activities and opportunities to reflect and debrief as a way to build SEL skills.
Weingrod says standout features of Project Wayfinder include the autonomy and creative flexibility the lessons offer teachers, the authentic learning and restorative practices woven into the curriculum, and the ability to adapt lessons for both in-person and virtual learning environments. It is also one of few SEL programs targeted specifically to middle schoolers. SIS rolled out the pilot program to students at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, during the school’s reformed guided study time each Monday. Weingrod says it has noticeably enabled better communication with students and strengthened feelings of connectedness.
“We know that many middle school students are exploring their own identities and where they belong within a larger group of people and community,” says SIS teacher Kelsey Klawien. “Project Wayfinder gives me, as a teacher, a structured and researched way to help my students through this. Specifically, within my guided study, I have seen an overall appreciation for each person as an individual, and every week my students lift each other up through sharing the appreciation they have for one another.”
Weingrod says the curriculum has also given staff a platform to develop enhanced relationships with their students through specific activities, questions and rituals that build trust and understanding between adolescents and adults. The curriculum is also easily modified based on student feedback.
Going forward, says Weingrod, incorporating Project Wayfinder into students’ weekly schedules more frequently would enable SIS teachers and student services professionals to effectively address topics such as coping strategies around stress and learning to handle social media. SIS is also hoping to integrate this SEL work into the eighth-grade Passages program, in which students create and give presentations sharing how they have grown as learners and developed their characters.
“I’m excited about creating a holistic learning experience for students where they walk into the school building and they know that they’re meant to be there, wherever they are at, and where they look forward to coming to school each day knowing they have people they can go to no matter what’s happening in their lives,” Weingrod says. “It’s all about our students feeling seen, valued and celebrated, and creating a culture where our middle school kids really thrive.”
[Pictured: Students in guided study with teacher Kelsey Klawien, center right, participate in a community building circle activity. On Klawien’s left is SIS Dean of Students Moriah Weingrod. Photo by Patrick Manning.]
This story is also published in the Shorewood Today magazine.