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Aperture Partner Q&A: Rowe Middle School, Chicago, IL

Name: Ms. Mariah Lewis 

Job Title: Dean of Students at Rowe Middle School  

Organization: Rowe Middle School, Chicago, IL


Describe who you are, what you do, and how SEL pertains to your role and responsibilities

My name is Mariah Lewis, I am the Dean of Students (formally known as the Dean of Social Emotional Learning and Culture) at Rowe Middle School. I take on many hats at school, but all the hats I wear focus on creating and sustaining a school culture that feels safe and supportive for both scholars and staff. I am responsible for (with the help and support of our AMAZING team) leading our school-wide SEL initiatives (using CASEL’s Guide to School-Wide SEL) which includes strengthening adult SEL practices and promoting SEL for students.  

For staff, I support them in yearlong professional development on building their adult SEL and Restorative Justice competencies (through our partnership with UMOJA). We believe that self work with adults translates naturally into practices that we then use with students and families. At Rowe, we intentionally infuse these practices into our weekly staff PD’s and meetings to continuously build community with each other. Topics include: self care, mindfulness, and gratitude. Additionally, I support staff with using our SEL resources i.e. Second Step and DESSA and act as a thought partner to improve these practices in the classroom.  

Additionally, I coordinate SEL support within our MTSS framework. For Tier 1, I support the implementation of the Second Step Program. All students are receiving explicit SEL instruction weekly in small groups called advisories. Within advisory, students build smaller communities with each other, elevate their voices, and receive weekly check ins from their advisor on their goals. Additionally, I facilitate Community Circle for all grades. Community Circle is a safe space where we come together once a month for school side SEL programming, shout outs, and goal setting. For Tier 2, I lead our Behavior Health Team in implementing Tier II supports for scholars which include SEL focused groups (using data from DESSA) and Check in Check out, along with other interventions. Lastly, for Tier 3, I collaborate with our Special Education Team and Social Work team for supporting our scholars with IEP’s and 504’s.  

Along with providing SEL opportunities for staff and students, we also provide families with SEL resources on a weekly basis through our family communication and Parent Academy. We partner with and encourage our  families to reinforce these practices at home.  

How does SEL show up in your environment?  

From a scholar perspective, they engage in SEL material on a daily basis. Our current advisory structure promotes time for Check In/Check Out, introductory SEL lessons, & space for SEL discussions with their peers. It also lives in the Community Agreements (from Aperture Resources), that each advisory created at the beginning of the year, and are reinforced every day. SEL also lives with our PBIS system at Rowe, we have taken the SEL character traits from Second Step and have embedded them into the positive behavior we assign behavior points and rewards. Another place SEL show ups is in our once a month assembly called Community Circle, where they receive SEL programming and build community together. It also shows up in our discipline grid, found in our Student Code of Conduct, for every negative behavior, there is a menu choice of options where a teacher is encouraged to use a restorative response, for example: SEL skill building.  

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to SEL?  

Our biggest challenge was getting buy in for making the shift to school wide SEL. We had to make a strong case for how SEL, living and breathing in everything we do, translates into positive outcomes for students both social emotionally and academically. Once our staff saw the impact that programs like Second Step and DESSA had on our students, they were bought in and committed to ensuring that all students were receiving explicit SEL instruction daily. 

How have you overcome those challenges, or what are you currently doing to overcome them? 

We overcome these challenges by starting off gradually with the introduction of SEL into our work. We first used some elements of Second Step and asked grade levels teams to report weekly how they felt about the lessons and the overall impact it was having in advisory spaces, we also surveyed our students. By the end of last year, spring 2020, teachers advocated for diving deeper into SEL, including work related to Trauma Informed and Restorative Justice.  

How does the work you do with Aperture and the DESSA assessment support you in overcoming those challenges? 

Our work with Aperture and DESSA helps us identify students’ SEL competencies and skills. We use this information when creating and executing our Tier I SEL instruction. We are able to apply information from a student’s DESSA strategically to our lessons to ensure they are building their skills in the areas where they need. We also use the information to leverage our students’ strengths so we can place them in opportunities that can help them thrive! Lastly, we use DESSA to identify our students who require Tier II and Tier III support through SEL competency groups, led by our Behavioral Health Team. This ensures students are getting intentional skill-building in these areas so we can ensure they are prepared for high school and beyond!  

When you think about the work you are doing with your students and staff on SEL, how do you measure success? 

We measure growth in SEL competencies by using DESSA 3-4x per year. We interview our students, teachers, and families to help provide a picture of where the student is in their SEL skills. We use the DESSA mini’s to help us track growth overtime.  

When you began working with Aperture and the DESSA, what was the implementation process like for you? For other staff/teachers?  

We decided to do 3 screenings this year while remote and leverage the knowledge from our families for our first screening since most scholars have been at home during the pandemic. For implementation, we trained our staff at the beginning of the year on the CASEL’s SEL Competencies and how we would use Second Step to instruct scholars on a daily basis and then use DESSA to assess them during the year. Staff received PD’s on Second Step and DESSA.  

How do you use the data provided through the Aperture system? 

We use this information when creating and executing our Tier I SEL instruction. We are able to apply information from a student’s DESSA strategically to our lessons to ensure they are building their skills in the areas where they need them. We also use the information to leverage our students strengths so we can place them in opportunities that can help them thrive! We also use DESSA to identify our students who require Tier II and Tier III support through SEL competency groups, led by our Behavioral Health Team. This ensures students are getting intentional skill building in these areas so we can ensure they are prepared for high school and beyond!  

How do you use the strategies provided through the Aperture system? 

We use the strategies from the foundational practice section for Community Circle (our school wide assemblies). Each month we highlight a different foundational practice and share with staff the competency guide and adult SEL document that aligns with the practice so that it can be reinforced with students throughout the week. 

When the pandemic hit, how did your district/school respond? What is your current learning environment like for staff and students? 

When the pandemic hit, we were already in the process of shifting to using Second Step and DESSA. The guidance from CPS to provide SEL to students while remote only strengthened that momentum. We felt that the emphasis when students were remote should be on relationship building, community, and SEL. We shifted our advisory structure to be less focused on homework and uniform check to Second Step SEL lessons and Check In/Check Out. We are currently still emphasizing implementing these while students are remote. They receive Check In/Out which we pulled from Second Step but the Community Agreements come from Aperture. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday they do Second Step. While they are remote, we are still conducting their DESSA screenings and using the data to create supports remotely.  

How has Aperture and the DESSA impacted your work and your organization’s work during the pandemic? 

DESSA has allowed us to identify students while they are away and still provide behavioral health supports in the remote world. Early on, we were able to identify which students would need more support, which makes a huge difference when you physically can’t see you students. The DESSA materials have allowed for us to still have SEL programming in our virtual school wide assemblies. Lastly, the DESSA has been transferable for either a remote or in person setting and that has allowed us to still provide SEL support for scholars regardless how if we are seeing students in person.  

Is there anything else that you’d like to share about your work in the SEL space? Anything we didn’t ask that we should have? 

We LOVE THE DESSA and are so appreciative of the work you do at Aperture.


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 and emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. This system enables education leaders can make strategic, data-based decisions about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments, CASEL-informed intervention strategies, and robust reporting, all in one easy-to-use digital platform. 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. 

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