Aperture Partner Case Study: Bringing SEL to Windsor Public Schools Through a Statewide Partnership

Creating Transformation Through SEL Training, Implementation, and Growth Strategies

“School isn’t just an academic place, it’s a place for social development. We can help students develop a positive sense of self to give them the ability to approach challenges confidently.”

– Felicia Hamilton, English teacher at Windsor High School

More than 83,000 Connecticut students are strengthening their social and emotional skills through Aperture Education’s Aperture System. This is part of the Connecticut State Department of Education’s priority of supporting MTSS by bringing social and emotional learning (SEL) to every district in the state.

Through this partnership, Aperture provides its DESSA assessment suite alongside professional development training, growth strategies and foundational practices, and progress monitoring capabilities to districts that participate.

Windsor Public Schools is one of the districts that started participating in Cohort 1. The district serves more than 3,300 students through six schools. The district’s mission is “developing the genius in every child and creating lifelong learners.”

Superintendent Terrell Hill, Ph.D., has prioritized intentional programming that focuses on getting to know students.

“It shows you care about them outside of their academic performance. No student can be reached until you reach their heart,” said Dr. Hill.

When signing on to be a part of Cohort 1, Dr. Hill explained that it wasn’t because the district wanted to add another thing to educators’ plates but to build upon initiatives already in the works to support them.

“Windsor Public Schools isn’t going to make SEL go away anytime soon. SEL matters. It may be a catchy acronym right now, but it isn’t new. Educators have always been doing this; we’re just using the [Aperture System] to do it more intentionally.”

Keep reading to hear from students and educators about their experience with SEL and how they’re using this work to support family and community understanding of social and emotional skills.

Students’ Perspective

One thing was clear from the students from Windsor Public Schools — SEL is an integral part of everyday life. Students discussed the sense of empowerment SEL gave them by feeling more confident in building relationships with their peers.

District Coordinator of Social Emotional Learning Michael Mallery, Ph.D., asked students to explain their experiences a bit more and phrases like, “speaking with kindness,” “listening to understand, not to respond,” “trying to understand other people’s perspectives,” and “taking responsibility for my actions,” came up.

SEL didn’t just give them the ability to strengthen bonds with their friends but created more open communication modes with their teachers.

“When I chose accountability for my actions by explaining to my teacher that I was too tired to do my homework, rather than lying about why I didn’t get it done, my teacher was more willing to work with me because she trusted me to create a timeline that was realistic to reach my goals,” explained one student.

Windsor students use language derived from SEL to advocate for themselves and their abilities. This isn’t to say there weren’t consequences for students’ actions, but rather a trusting dialogue so that expectations going forward could be understood and met.

“We’re working with students to create optimal conditions that encourage appropriate academic, social, and emotional skill development,” said Dr. Mallery.

Students from middle and high school explained that for them having social and emotional skills set the foundation for academic success.

“Academics are important, but it’s historically been up to us to figure out how to take that forward in being successful. The [social and emotional] skills we’re learning guide us to succeed beyond school,” said a Windsor High School student.

Another high schooler said that SEL had taught them how to manage their time, regulate their emotions, have the skills to think about others’ perspectives, and be prepared for new situations.

Focusing on SEL in Windsor Public Schools makes students feel better prepared for their academic careers and more confident in navigating their futures.

Educators’ Perspective

An important part of successful SEL implementation is facilitating opportunities for educators to engage in their own social and emotional skill development.

Shane Fye, a middle school math teacher, shared why he advocates for SEL in school.

“I am an SEL champion because it has always been something that’s a part of good teaching; it just has a name and has come to light more. It’s not only beneficial for students but for me as an educator. It helps my mindset; it builds strong relationships with our students,” said Shane.

Educators who focus on developing their own skills are better equipped for displaying SEL within the classroom and walking students through how they’re using strategies in their own lives.

“I try to model as much as I teach social and emotional skills. It helps to display the connection between emotional quotient (EQ) and intellectual quotient (IQ). I want students to be future difference makers. To do that, you must emphasize the high development of EQ, too,” said Caitlin Bramucci, K-5 grade gifted education teacher.

And like Shane said, SEL isn’t something new. It’s what educators are doing every day. Windsor educators have found natural ways to incorporate it in all they do — bridging academics and SEL.

Educators incorporated structured SEL lessons within day-to-day moments.

“Our classroom spaces are specifically created to make students feel safe, welcomed, and celebrated. Throughout the school day there are opportunities for students to collaborate to grow their social and emotional skills,” said Caitlin.

Students had a willingness to share ideas and attempt tasks when they felt like an included part of the classroom.

“The check-in and follow-up are also important,” said Felicia Hamilton, English teacher at the high school. “The Aperture System data is fantastic because it allows us to establish a baseline of where students are at. The full DESSA has been the greatest experience so far — using data to inform how I support students. I’ve been able to take data and apply specific, targeted strategies to help students grow.”

By explaining this impact upfront to educators, you get buy-in earlier on.

“It’s not just another thing you’re adding to teachers’ plate, it’s lessening the load by giving us better ways to support students,” said Damion Morgan, an SEL specialist at one of the elementary schools.

Leverage the support your school offers and be open with students about your strengths and areas for growth.

“Teachers who express a willingness to learn will experience greater success. Work together with others to explore strategies and intentionally implement them. With a collective effort, we can all build competence and empower each other and our students,” said Shane.

Families’ Perspective

But SEL doesn’t just live at school; it’s a part of community members and family members, too. Windsor Public Schools knew that for the work they were doing within school time to be long-lasting, they needed to get the larger Windsor area also to understand its importance.

The district encouraged parent-teacher home visits that focused on relationship building.

“Nothing was planned for these visits; we didn’t come with worksheets or anything; it was solely an opportunity to learn about the needs our students’ families had,” said Dr. Mallery.

Another opportunity to strengthen the community’s understanding of SEL was through the Kiwanis Club of Windsor’s K-Kids program. It’s a student leadership program implemented at Windsor’s 3-5 grade schools led by Family Resource Center Coordinators to support positive youth development.

In addition to the K-Kids program, Windsor’s Office of Community Partnerships, led by Christina Morales and her team of Family Resource Center Coordinators, often partnered with Dr. Mallery’s office to assist in leading district-wide SEL workshops for the community — and more than 75 families attended.

The coordinators facilitated conversations about meeting students’ social and emotional needs at home by creating a positive environment for students to vocalize their thoughts and feelings.

“We explained the whole child approach to learning and how it would strengthen students’ relationships with their families, create better relationships with teachers, and give students the skills to play a more active role in their learning,” said Dr. Mallery.

Spending quality time with family and community members is essential to getting buy-in for SEL. It not only builds understanding of the impact of developing social and emotional skills, but it also allows them to engage in learning the skills themselves.

About Aperture Education

Aperture Education has empowered over 6,500 schools and out-of-school time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social and emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The Aperture System includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments, CASEL™-aligned intervention strategies, and robust reporting, all in one easy-to-use digital platform. This system enables education leaders to make strategic, data-based decisions about SEL within their organizations. Aperture has supported more than one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus. To learn more, visit www.apertureed.com.

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