compiled by Tyler Jones, City Year AmeriCorps VISTA

Social emotional learning (SEL), refers to a person’s emotional and interpersonal skills. Some aspects of SEL include manners and etiquette, kind behaviors and building positive relationships with peers. At City Year, we focus on more than just students’ academics; we focus on their social emotional success as well. As part of City Year’s Whole School, Whole Child approach to working with students, AmeriCorps members work on building SEL skills with their students in order to help them develop into kind, successful, and well-rounded individuals both inside and outside the classroom. Here is what three City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps members do to develop social emotional learning within their classrooms:

“I decided to serve because I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to reach their full potential. I believe that social emotional learning lays a foundation for students’ deeper learning and ensures their success academically. When I was a student, my favorite teachers helped me build my self-confidence and perseverance. These are valuable skills that have had a significant impact on my academic performance and shaping me into who I am today. Serving with City Year, I made a commitment to myself to do my best to support my students in the same way that I was supported.

In our classroom, my partner teacher and I have cooperated in a classroom activity that awards the students when they show positive classroom behaviors. Each student is given 20 beans a week. A bean gets taken away when the students choose to express inappropriate behavior. We observe the students closely in the class and when we see a student showing kindness to others, we praise and give them a bean for this behavior. At the end of the week, each student pours their beans into a big jar and when the beans in the jar reach a certain amount, the students get rewarded.  This activity helps the students hold themselves accountable for their behaviors and fosters a positive learning environment.

The ability to manage your own emotions when facing frustrations is an important skill to develop to enhance students’ learning experiences. To nurture a growth mindset for the students, my partner teacher and I approach the students’ mistakes constructively and always point out what works before we explain what doesn’t work. When the students become frustrated and angry at their mistakes, my partner teacher and I remain patient and ask meticulous questions to guide them in the right direction. Our dedication in the classroom makes it clear to the students that they can reach their goal if they work hard and put their mind to it.

Outside the classroom, I support the students with their social emotional learning through lunch group activities and coaching conversations. For lunch group, I especially focus on developing their teamwork skills and boosting their self-confidence. I built my lunch group norms around being respectful and kind to one another, as well as active participation. I also provide the students my listening ears and availability so they know that they can share anything with me and that they are supported in school.

As a whole school, McDonough Elementary School has a Leader In Me program that encourages students to build a positive learning environment and exercise their social emotional skills. The program is based upon the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The students can earn a slip when they exhibit one of these seven habits. The slips are then collected to display on a big tree in the cafeteria. At the end of every month, some slips are randomly chosen from the tree. The students who were chosen are featured in a morning whole-school announcement.

As an AmeriCorps member, it is crucial to understand the importance of social emotional learning combined with many layers of support. I hope to catalyze students’ learning experiences and open up opportunities for them to reach their full potential.”

-Thanh Dinh, AmeriCorps member serving on the McDonough Elementary School team


 “One of my favorite parts of my week of service is getting the chance to meet with my behavior group. It gives me a chance to spend quality time with my small group for two days of the week during lunch time. I develop lesson plans the day before so I can work toward a skill that will be beneficial for students’ needs and for my students’ long term success. The first day, we created norms for the group like being respectful, giving everyone a chance to talk and not talking when someone else is talking, which for third graders can be hard at first. Our group name is City Year and Friends Candy Group, and we are kind toward each other and always give our best effort.

In the beginning with my group, not everything started as I had hoped. Students were not fully respecting the rules, thinking that group meetings will always involve candy and having activities that they will always enjoy can be tough. But, each week, the group has made progress with respecting each other and following the rules we created. I find implementing City Year culture to be useful and fun for my group. For example, at the end of our time together, every time we ‘bring it in’ for a spirit break, where we gather in a circle and put our hands in the middle, we say ‘1...2...3 City Year and Friends Candy Group!’”

-Arthur Lyon, Service Leader on the Northwest Elementary School Team generously sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal


“For me, working with my lunch group is just as rewarding (and possibly even more challenging) as working with students in a classroom. As a second-year AmeriCorps member, I learned a lot about how to run a successful lunch group. My lunch group last year was definitely a learning experience. My partner teacher and I focused on students who exhibited mostly disruptive behaviors in class. These students would speak out, which would distract the students around them. I did my best throughout the year to help them learn self-control and when it’s okay to speak, but I think I could have been more effective helping my whole class rather than just a small group of students.

This year my lunch group looks a little different. I hope to use some of the activities I planned with my group last year (like listening and responsibility activities) again this year, along with some new games. My partner teacher and I are focusing on students who have a wide range of needs. Some of the students in my group need support with social skills, some need support with confidence, and others need support with respect. With a group of students who have different needs, the students can continually learn from each other!

Lunch groups are a critical part of the impact we make on the schools in Manchester. With our lunch groups and whole class support, we can help students develop those social-emotional skills. Lunch groups are one of the most challenging parts of our day, but they are also one of the most rewarding. I can't wait to see the progress that my students make from the beginning of the year to the last day of school!”

-Marisa Milone, Service Leader on the Northwest Elementary School Team generously sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal


In addition to City Year’s daily work with children on social emotional skills, there are several initiatives that other organizations have created to foster safe and positive school environments. One of these initiatives is No Name-Calling Week. This week is designed to end name-calling and bullying in schools. Click here for ways to participate in No Name-Calling Week.

If you or someone you know is interested in joining City Year, click here for information about the application process. The next application deadline is March 9.

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