In September of 2022, students in Newark Public Schools returned to in person classes after 2 years of online learning during the pandemic. To bridge the gap that had been created between home and school during this time, the district used Supportive Schools Newark grant funds from the Mental Health Service Professionals Demonstration Grant to purchase Social Emotional Learning kits for student’s grades K-8 to continue practicing at home the SEL skills they were learning in the classroom.
The kits were tailored with different items and activities depending on the student’s age: for instance, while students’ grades K-2 and 3-5 received coloring books in their kits, grades 6-8 received a well-being log to track their feelings. Students across all grades received a breathing star tactile card (which guides students through a soothing breathing pattern) as well as a sensory activity. To see the full list of activities and items offered in the kits view this flier.
The development of the SEL kits involved partnership with school counselors and social workers, parent liaisons, graduate students at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the vendor who helped create the kits. School counselors and social workers were involved at the beginning of the school year to discuss the idea for a “mental health first aid kit:” a small booklet for students to read about the importance of mental health. The counselors and social workers communicated the students’ need for something more engaging, and from there the SEL kit came to fruition.
The school counselors and social workers distributed the kits throughout the schools on National SEL Day, March 11th, and information was circulated among parent liaisons and graduate interns from Fairleigh Dickinson so that they could support students and families with the utilization of the kits. It was a real community effort, and the plan is to engage these community partners even earlier in the process next time around.
Student engagement with the SEL kits has been high since distribution, with one social worker at Elliott Street School noting that their 3rd and 4th grade classes were using their SEL kits on their own time during recess. The district hopes to build off of this momentum in the coming year.