Happy SEL Day!

Here at Parker, we believe that learning happens across a broad spectrum of development. True and important learning is not just isolated into subject areas, facts, and scholastic skills. It is integrated, holistic, and must address the child’s social and emotional journey alongside their academic growth. Children lead lives that are rich with feeling, and we understand this is an essential developmental component of childhood. It is why we prioritize emotional security as one of our four core values. This is what educating the whole child looks like, and it is a big part of what differentiates Parker from other schools.

SEL learning is integrated into our programming and happens throughout the day at Parker. However, last year, in an effort to be more intentional about dedicating explicit time towards developing these skills, we also created an SEL & Wellness position and curriculum, led by Katie Thornton. Katie holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University with a focus on Human Development & Psychology and Risk and Prevention. In addition, Katie is a certified yoga and meditation teacher, teaching yoga at the Kripalu Center in the Berkshires.
For the past two years, under Katie’s guidance, Parker students have enjoyed a regular, weekly SEL class, in addition to mixed-age “lunch bunches” and special-interest groups like “Nature Club”. And today, Parker was thrilled to participate in our first ever SEL Day! 
SEL Day is a global, grassroots campaign for social-emotional learning to support children’s academic recovery, mental health, and well-being. Since its inception in 2020, SEL Day has spread to all 50 U.S. states and 87 countries, with 11,000 commitments to showcase, promote, advocate, and support SEL. Advocacy efforts have resulted in SEL Day proclamations in fifteen states, a letter of support from the White House, and a bipartisan resolution for SEL Week introduced in the Senate.
Katie explained her motivation for bringing this celebration to Parker saying, “I feel like Parker has taken great efforts to make SEL a priority by weaving it into the classroom from Kindergarten on up. It is a language our kids are now using on a daily basis. Parker kids also tend towards advocacy, and there is definitely an advocacy component to SEL Day too. Our kids know what that means, and they can get excited about it. Spreading the word and being a school that is an example of how to weave SEL into education just feels natural here.” 
Katie goes on to explain, “Advocacy within SEL happens at two levels here at Parker. At a fundamental level, we are working on kids building their own sense of self – self-concept, self-efficacy, self-worth. All of these ways of knowing yourself impacts our students right now because it enables them to advocate for themselves as human beings in this world. With this, there also comes a natural evolution towards advocacy for others. For example, currently Parker 3rd & 4th graders have created their own campaign to save the Earth. They are very focused on polluting, and they are even spending their recesses picking up trash. They have crafted and are wearing signs that say things like “The Earth needs saving!” or “Stop polluting!” Things like this happen organically at Parker because there is space for it to happen. Actions like this come from feeling confident. Parker kids feel that their voice matters. They feel safe and that they belong. They are not going to be criticized or ostracized for doing something like this. In fact, more often than not when something like this happens, the other kids get curious and want to learn more. It trickles down. SEL enables Parker kids to practice advocacy now for themselves in their lives as they are, and it also enables them to practice advocacy for who they are becoming.”

Parker kicked off our own SEL Day with a special, SEL-themed assembly led by our 8th grade. Following this, students moved into mixed-grade buddy snack time, followed by an all-school hike. The day culminated with SEL/Wellness Choice time, which allowed students to choose from various stations led by various Parker staff, with over a dozen options including felted pebbles, yoga, trail running, knitting, painting, journaling, and jewelry making. Katie elaborated on this special end to the day, explaining, “It was important to me to give the kids choices because kids need practice in feeling confident and okay about the decisions they make. They also need to practice making decisions that are right for them. In SEL class, we talk a lot about how what works for one person may not work for another. There are many different paths to well-being. I was also excited to honor our teachers and the different passions they have. By leading various stations inspired by their joys, I think they led by example in demonstrating to our students what it means to make choices that feel “just right” to them.”

Katie concluded with a simple but profound wish for Parker’s SEL Day: “I hope people have fun. I think fun is underrated in our society. I also think fun and laughter should never be underestimated in an educational setting. Our kids spend much of their young lives in school, and bringing joy into that sphere is critical. I want people to try something new, and hopefully take a little bit of a risk. I hope that each kid can meet a new person (whether another student or a faculty member), or that they get to see someone they know in a new way. I hope that they come away knowing what SEL Day means, and that they go home and talk about it with their families. I hope that this is part of their advocacy – that our shared language and practices around wellness and emotions becomes the language they also share with their families and loved ones and eventually, hopefully, the world.”Please click on the image below to view a private photo album of our day!