High School SEL: Building a Foundation for Student Voice, Goals, and Growth
With a mission to engage, challenge, and inspire every student every day, Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District in Wisconsin works toward its vision of successful futures for all students. Oak Creek-Franklin educators and staff strive toward the goal of ensuring that each of their 2000+ high school students graduate prepared to excel at their school or career of choice. This entails preparing students with academic, communication, collaboration, and digital skills that will make students capable of participating safely, ethically, and productively in a profoundly different future.
Like many counselors, psychologists, and student services staff across the country, school psychologist Emilie Tregellas has been challenged with how to approach social and emotional learning in the high school space. “When I first started, we recognized a need to get more fluid with academic and SEL interventions. The assessments were happening, but we weren’t using the data as effectively as we could. Now K–8 teachers and staff meet to identify students in need and plan interventions. We’re getting really good at the elementary level,” said Tregellas. While elementary teachers are growing in their skills to actively incorporate social and emotional skills into their classroom lessons throughout the day, teachers at the high school level are trained to focus more heavily on subject-specific content and curriculum. Additionally, given the nature of high school schedules, it can be difficult to assign teachers to assess students on social-emotional competency, as they may not spend enough quality time together to gauge student skills and know which students may be in need of Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports.
In order to establish more SEL at the high school level and to get a baseline understanding of the social and emotional competency of high school students in the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District, Emilie Tregellas and her team partnered with Aperture Education. “For teachers, we wanted them to have a deeper understanding of social-emotional competencies and what it means to be proficient for themselves and for students.” EdSERT, Aperture’s SEL system for teachers and school staff, empowers teachers to learn about SEL at their own pace. “For the high school students, we felt it would be best if we could just get the data straight from the kids,” said Tregellas. Through Aperture Education’s Early Adopter Program, Tregellas and her team were able to test-drive education’s first strengths-based DESSA self-report for high school students.
Keep reading to learn how Emilie Tregellas of Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District:
Created an implementation plan to launch new SEL technology to over 2,000 students
Collaborated with teachers and staff to get the word out about the importance of SEL and accurate assessment
Shared her results with school administrators and stakeholders
Is preparing for the next school year using the Aperture High School Student Portal, powered by the DESSA student self-report
“We have Advisory, so we decided to have the students take the assessment during that time,” said Tregellas. The class period is short, so we divided the plan into three lessons. In the first lesson, students created their account and got acclimated to the system. In the second lesson, students took the assessment and briefly reviewed their immediate results. In the third, students reviewed their results and set goals within the Aperture High School Student Portal to give them a vehicle for their own voice and a chance to work toward their growth opportunities in a way that speaks to them.
Collaboration and Communication
Educators have a lot on their plates, and Tregellas wanted to be sensitive to that as she implemented a new program with new technology. “We did a lot of work communicating and educating teachers beforehand to help them understand how important it was to have the students take this seriously,” she said. Before launch, Tregellas, Courtney Curry, school social worker, and Laura Westcott, Ninth Grade Center principal, created a professional development plan for teachers. They shared the lessons with the teachers, walked them through what the process would be for the students, clearly communicated the expectations around when they would be expected to execute each step, and noted whom to reach out to if they needed support. “One of my goals was to be super responsive to teachers during this process, because I wanted them to have a good experience and to be champions of the platform,” said Tregellas.
Sharing with Stakeholders
Tregellas cites strong relationship building with district leadership as a key to success. Like many districts, attention to academic success is a priority for leadership, but shifts are starting to happen. “We’re at a pivotal point where people are realizing that if kids can’t access learning (through a key social-emotional skill like self-management, for example), then they can’t learn their academic curriculum. And people in our district are really dialed into that. We have good champions. Our job now is to continue to communicate what we’re doing to keep the momentum going,” said Tregellas. “Our school social worker and I attend principal meetings to get feedback on their challenges and what is working, and to empower them to lead SEL initiatives in their schools.”
Preparing for What’s Next
“When we initially saw the results of the DESSA Student Self-Report, teachers worried because the overall scores seemed lower than expected. We realized it was likely because many students lost a lot of protective factors this year with the pandemic. It’s good for us to know this type of information because now we can act on it,” said Tregellas. DESSA Student Self-Report data illustrated that a majority of Oak Creek-Franklin students were struggling with the SEL competencies of Self-Awareness and Optimistic Thinking. In response to these findings, a small team came together to create advisory lessons based on the identified SEL competencies. “For next year, we’ll use the DESSA Student Self-Report for screening. Students who fall into the Needs category after screening will have a report filled out by a teacher so we can compare the results and create an action plan.” Tregellas is also excited about continuing to use the goal-setting functionality in the Aperture Student Portal. “Executive functioning skills is a passion of mine. Your platform helps kids access goal setting in a way that might be challenging but can help them follow through. We work with our students on goal-setting, and I could also see teachers feeling like goal-setting is more approachable and doable because we now have a consistent, easy way to set and track those goals.”
With tools that make social and emotional learning practical and approachable for the high school space, Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District is able to continue to build a solid foundation of SEL across the entire district to follow its mission to prepare students with academic, communication, collaboration, and digital skills that will make students capable of participating safely, ethically, and productively in a profoundly different future. “This program is helping us connect a lot of pieces including but not limited to the ability to teach kids a lifelong skill that is going to make them career and college ready. We can all benefit from knowing our strengths and how to set goals.”
About Aperture Education
Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 schools and out-of-school-time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social-emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. The powerful data districts receive enables education leaders to take strategic action about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments which is lauded by researchers for its high standards for reliability and validity, and appreciated by educators for its ability to easily and quickly identify each student’s personal social-emotional strengths and areas of needed support. Aperture partners with industry curriculum leaders to deliver research-based, CASEL-informed intervention strategies to bolster specific areas of needed growth. Paired with robust reporting in one easy-to-use system, Aperture is often favored in districts nationwide. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus.