The high rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. and beyond have flagged an important question in the public’s consciousness: What can we do now to improve the health and well-being of our children in the future? Countless measures have been taken: health initiatives pushed, bills passed, campaigns created, and mascots of brown paper bags full of fresh fruits and veggies printed and distributed. With our attention heavily focused on the physical aspects of health, equally important and undoubtedly related is the emotional health and social adeptness of children. Social and emotional learning, a process through which children acquire and apply knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for understanding emotions, set positive goals, and establish and maintain positive relationships, among other benefits (Casel, 2017), holds potential not only to enhance key life skills of children, but also their overall health.
As children spend the majority of their time in school, incorporating an intentional focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) into a traditional school curriculum adds self-management, goal setting, and social awareness to the learning objectives alongside George Washington and long division. While SEL lessons can be taught independently, SEL is often seamlessly incorporated into how traditional subjects are taught. The skills taught in SEL can be built developmentally so that behaviors that can help children respond to challenges ethically, responsibly, and empathetically become as ingrained as the a, b, c’s. Social and emotional learning in fact does prepare children to better handle issues in their day-to-day lives.
Studies examining the effects of SEL interventions on children revealed that academic performance and positive attitudes towards themselves and others were higher than children not exposed to SEL. Beyond academics, research has found that conduct problems, emotional distress, and drug use are lower for students involved in SEL programs. It is no wonder that schools and youth-based organizations are looking towards integrating SEL into their programs. Teaching children the skills to self-manage their emotions, set goals, and critically think through problems is not only increasing academic performance, but is giving them the opportunity to develop into well-rounded, healthy adults. To learn more about the evidence behind social and emotional learning, you can view their key studies here.
In further supporting and growing SEL efforts, The Michael & Susan Dell Community Collaborative for Child Health (“the Collaborative”), a volunteer collaborative of community leaders, is providing mini-grants to schools, afterschool programs, and other community groups in central Texas for the 2017-18 school year to incorporate or continue incorporating already established SEL practices and programs into their youth- focused organizations through this year’s initiative: C’s the Day: Caring Communities Create Capable Children. The Collaborative is administered through funding from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in Austin. Each year the Collaborative provides grants of $150-$500 to after-school programs, faith based organizations, and other groups who work with children to promote specific health initiatives. Initiatives in the past have focused on getting children out and connecting in nature, promoting healthy eating, and fostering physically active learning. This year’s focus on the promotion of SEL supports the Collaborative’s mission of fostering family-school-community partnerships for the promotion of child health in Central Texas.
Last year, the Collaborative provided mini-grants to 14 groups from Central Texas to promote an initiative to get outside and connect with nature through Nature U: Juntos Afuera/ Together Outside. Camp Fire Central Texas and Austin Youth River Watch were two of the groups who were awarded grants last year.
Camp Fire Central Texas used their grant to install a Black History and Latino Culture Heirloom Garden at Dailey Middle School. The garden provided the students with the opportunity to cultivate maintain and enjoy produce from their garden while exploring the connection between the produce that they planted to its cultural and historical origins. Students were also encouraged to investigate reasons behind food deserts and food injustice and learned about the health benefits of different pigments in plants. Read more about this project here.
Austin Youth River Watch used their grant to attend an overnight campout on the Blanco River in Wimberley. The youth conducted experiments to understand chemical and biological parameters of water quality and participated in restoring the rivers riparian zone by replacing vegetation that was devastated after the Memorial Day Floods to help lessen the effects of future floods. Read more about this project here .To date, over 65 projects similar to these that aim to enhance the health and wellness of youth in Central Texas have been supported by grants from the Collaborative since its inception in 2012.
Applications for this year’s mini-grant highlighting Social and Emotional Learning are available here and are due on December 18th, 2017. Central Texas schools, afterschool programs, and other community groups working with children and youth are encouraged to apply. Health is not just about the physical, and school is not just about the alphabet. Help us to continue to co-learn about how we can further support and promote social and emotional learning of our central Texas children!
Dell Health Undergraduate Scholar
Jessica is a student at St. Edwards University studying Art and Biology with a goal to attend medical school. She previously attended Parsons School of Design where she studied Integrated Design before switching gears and beginning her career in health and wellness. After studying Yoga Therapy and Ayurveda, she taught group classes while also providing personalized sessions focused on therapeutic applications of yoga for stress management and chronic pain. As a Health Coach at the Whole Foods Medical and Wellness Center, she combined her passion for patient care and health education to counsel patients on disease management and prevention using a whole food diet and stress management techniques. She is excited to combine her many passions while working to help cultivate healthy, happy communities.
In her spare time she can be found walking her two, sweet dogs, asking strangers if they want to see pictures of her two, sweet dogs and using her hands to cook, create and craft.