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New curriculum helps students understand how emotions impact learning

Godwin Heights — There is no doubt that today’s K-12 students have faced and dealt with traumas unlike those of 10 or 20 years ago. 

“We know, given the state of our world and the state of our culture, our students have experienced trauma and situations that have been close to their hearts,” said Katie Hoffman, Godwin Heights’ new multi-tiered systems of support coordinator. 

MTSS is a framework schools use to identify and help students who are struggling. 

“The more we show understanding and educate students on how to deal with some of these conflicts, the more tools the students will have to be successful in education,” Hoffman said.

The district this year implemented a new social emotional learning K-12 curriculum, Lions Quest, designed to help students develop self awareness, build relationships, and communicate and establish positive social skills. 

Related: In a contentious time, students extend ‘grace and courtesy’

Lions Quest is a K-12 curriculum that is offered through the Lions Club International Foundation. The curriculum offers cross-curricular activities, family and community connection activities, as well as reinforcement and enrichment.

Social-emotional learning is the process of acquiring the knowledge and skills to 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. 

“For so long, students came to school to learn the content — science and math — but if we teach them the social skills and the emotional regulations it helps them to be successful in those content areas,” Hoffman said.

At the elementary level, K-5 students receive about 45 minutes per week of SEL instruction. For 6 -12th grades, students have a 30-minute SEL lesson once a week during their advisory period.

The Key is the Quest

The key, Hoffman said, is that a student understands why he/she is frustrated over poor test scores; argues with a friend who has a different point of view; or is overwhelmed by emotions that make it difficult to cope, much less learn. These are skill sets that not only help students learn, she said, but also aid them in future careers.

Character education in the district focused on many of the same SEL skills, but Hoffman noted the elementary school was using one curriculum, while the high school had switched to something different. 

The district created a committee last year to review Godwin’s SEL curriculum by defining a vision, along with considering why it is important to students and staff and what the district hopes to achieve.

Alicia Hagan, a social worker at West Godwin who was on the committee, pointed to the committee’s mission statement: “To be a district in which students and staff, together as an equitable community, develop a sense of confidence and self-worth by utilizing common language and skills which encourage mutual respect, safety, empathy, and emotional awareness. Godwin Heights Public Schools validates the history, culture, backgrounds, and assets of every community member in this process.”

Hagan said the committee wanted a consistent SEL curriculum so when kindergarteners got to 12th grade, the same language was being used. 

Hoffman said another asset is that Lions Quest references Common Core education guidelines, allowing teachers to integrate the SEL curriculum with what they are already teaching.

An example, Hagan said, would be that students are learning how to identify feelings and how to process them. This allows students to respond in a safe and appropriate way, she said.

While the district just kicked off the new SEL program at the beginning of the year, students have already indicated that it has had an impact. Through a recent anonymous survey, one high school student commented that s/he has learned to pause and think before acting or speaking. “I’ve tried turning a negative thing into a positive thing when I argued with my family,” the student wrote. 

Another student commented that the district’s SEL program has given him/her the tools to “set goals and achieve them.”

Welcome to the Table

Like a large family that comes to the dinner table to discuss their day, Lions Quest is only one component of the academic and behavioral strategies offered as part of the district’s multi-tiered systems of support which Hoffman oversees. 

“The Lions Quest is offered to all students, but we recognize that there are some students who may need more help,” she said, adding that the district has support staff in place. 

“If we are able to help a student recognize that they are frustrated and what steps can they take — deep breathing, going for a walk — to help them come back to a calm, then we have created a better learning environment for everyone and given the student a skill that will make them successful in wherever they go after school.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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