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Cool Schools: Ballard Elementary piloting social-emotional class

Cool Schools: Ballard Elementary piloting social-emotional class

NILES, Mich. -- A group of teachers at Ballard Elementary School in Niles are piloting a class this school year that helps students understand the feelings of themselves and others. 

“We teach science, social studies, reading, math, writing, and now we’re just starting to teach social-emotional," said second grade teacher Melissa McNeely. 

McNeely and fellow second grade teacher Kyle Bechtel are two of ten educators at Ballard piloting "Second Step." 

“It’s a lot different than the usual things," said Bechtel. “Teaching the feelings, self control, getting them to self regulate and understand those things." 

Once a week, McNeely and Bechtel's classes combine and take 45 minutes to watch videos and play games among other activities. 

“This is something that students need to have in their lives," said McNeely. 

Through 29 lessons, students learn social emotional skills like self-regulation, situational awareness, and empathy. 

Students just wrapped up lesson nine. 

“They have started to realize what other people are feeling, that their actions have consequences and those consequences can affect other people," said McNeely. "I see more kindness in my room.”

Second Step and the teachers say there is increasing evidence that students need these skills just as much as cognitive ones to ensure academic success. 

“It’s really hard for them to try and focus on the math and reading when they’ve got all these other things going on, so this has allowed us to help them to develop those skills to self regulate when they get here so that they can spend time focusing more on your typical math and reading," said Bechtel. 

“It’s important for them to realize that they are in control of themselves," said McNeely. “We all have baggage and once we can deal with that baggage, learning can happen. Obviously I want the learning to be at its fullest and highest strength and being able to deal with their social-emotional feelings then they can learn a little bit better." 

Students say it creates an impact that goes beyond the classroom and Ballard Elementary. 

“It’ll help us focus," said second grader Nolan Recker. 

"They won't bully or they won't feel lost," added second grader Grahman Beckman. 

“That’s one thing that this world needs more than anything, is empathy," said McNeely. "Hopefully starting with our kids being so young, they'll be able to take it with them and it will hopefully spread." 

Ballard will finish testing this program then try out another one. The school's principal says at the end of the school year, school leaders will then decide which is the best fit for the school and implement it in all classrooms next year. 

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