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Alpine, Davis school districts ramp up support for social and emotional learning

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the school year gets underway for students across Utah, thousands of kids in two districts will have more resources strengthening social and emotional learning (SEL).

The Davis School district is at the beginning of their journey toward SEL. The Alpine School District is a little further along; they’ve been investigating and researching the implementation of SEL for about two years.

What is social and emotional learning?

Two decades of research back up the importance and impact of social and emotional learning (SEL).  An educator collaborative known as CASEL, or the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, broadly defines SEL as a process for kids and adults, involving managing emotions and relationships, goal setting, learning empathy, and responsible decision making.

Davis School District

The Davis School District says students who have access to SEL resources are more successful in school and in daily life. With the right resources, district officials say, students better understand themselves. They are also better able to master a variety of other crucial skills, attitudes and mindsets.

To kick off their implementation of SEL, Davis recently invited school board members, school teams and district leaders to a two-day symposium. The goal was to help create a district-wide approach to social and emotional learning.

Then, teams took what they’d learned back to their individual schools. Their next steps are to determine which programs and curricula will best suit their students and teachers.

“The district, in the first year, is currently looking at building the foundation,” says Kathleen Chronister, the Director of Social and Emotional Learning for the Davis School District.  “We’re looking at our scope and sequence, from pre-K through 12, of all of our academic standards, (to find) where there is a natural fit to teach problem-solving or how to be socially aware.”

Chronister says they’ll work with teachers to find strategies, skills, lessons and activities that will help them better teach SEL. She says it’s important to seamlessly blend SEL with academics.

Alpine School District

The Alpine School District in American Fork highlighted their SEL efforts with a rally. There, Superintendent Sam Jarman explained how Alpine is implementing SEL.

“We’ve hired more psychologists, social workers (and) behavior specialists,” Jarman says.  “We have more counselors in our elementary schools, besides those that are already in our secondary schools.”

Dr. Matt Swenson with Intermountain Health Care also spoke at the Alpine rally, where he reiterated the importance of teachers in the lives of their students.

“We know what kids need,” Swenson says.  “It’s that they need to feel more safe to be themselves and to talk. And to feel their emotions. And to explore and even to fail. They need to feel more confident.”


Teachers and administrators have to prepare lessons and manage classrooms. They have to grade papers and meet with parents. It may be difficult to add a child’s social and emotional education to their plate.

But CASEL leaders say the effort is worth it. Citing a 2011 study that involved more than 270,000 students, CASEL claims students involved in SEL programs showed an 11% gain in their academic achievement and decreases in dropout rates, behavior issues, drug use, teen pregnancy, mental health problems, and criminal behavior.


(This story has been edited to reflect the correct spelling of Superintendent Sam Jarman’s last name.)