Next year, all students at Brook Park School in LaGrange Park, except for second-graders, will receive regular weekly instruction in what educators call social-emotional learning, or SEL. 

The Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Board of Education voted 6-0 on June 10 to establish a full-time teaching position solely dedicated to social-emotional learning.

The Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines social emotional learning as “the process by which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.” 

Many school districts have beefed up their social-emotional learning instruction in recent years and are doing more next year with the expectation that some students will struggle in their return to school after having been away for regular school for more than a year

“We know that things are going to look different [next year],” Mike Sorensen, Brook Park’s principal for grades 3-5, told the school board during a presentation that Sorensen, K-2 Principal Kelly King and Assistant Principal Jill Johnson made prior to the vote.

Many educators have been concerned about students’ mental health as a result of the pandemic. Students have missed social interactions and have gotten out of regular routines. For some, the return to school, and the school routine, could pose challenges.

Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said the new position is part of an overall effort to help students.

“SEL is not a reaction to the pandemic,” Kuzniewski said. “This is just one more piece to give support to students.”

All Brook Park students, except second-graders, will get 30 minutes of SEL instruction twice a week during the school year. Second-graders were excluded because of scheduling issues.

The goals of the SEL curriculum include helping students develop more resiliency, to build self-regulation and mindfulness skills, and to help develop collaboration and problem-solving skills.

SEL will be just one of the so called “special” classes which also include art, music, STEAM and physical education.

Now that the new position has been approved, the district has to hire a teacher.

“We’ll find the right person fast,” Sorensen said, adding that he had a couple of in-house candidates in mind.

The new SEL teaching position is likely to be a long-term change, not just a reaction to the pandemic school year.

“This will be more than just one year,” Sorensen said.