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SEL: Do Our Kids Understand it…in Any Language?

Mar 3, 2021 10:37:23 AM / by EdCuration Staff Writer

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Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has become more critical than ever before for students in the past year. The good news is that there are incredible resources to help.

While it felt like a relatively “soft” subject before 2020, now it is essential for the well-being of kids growing up and experiencing a mixed bag—from solitary remote learning, to hybrid learning, to false alarms about returning to in-person learning, to the back-and-forth of being in and out of class.

What IS SEL?

Most kids don’t actually know what “SEL” means. What they do know is that it is a somewhat new requirement and that it is not graded. That said, it may be the most essential 50 minutes a student can spend during a given school day. So, we must elevate it in the eyes of students and parents. And we must do it in multiple languages.

Most students are young adults, yet they’re not operating with fully formed adult brains according to science. They require significant support when it comes to developing skills to manage their social and emotional world—whether in class, in isolation, in their family units, or out there in the world.

SEL in Spanish? 

SEL education is working to solve an unanswered question for kids of all ages. In many cases, it is indeed helping young people. But imagine it is being taught in a language largely unfamiliar to the students meant to benefit from it. The barrier there is obvious. SEL is already new to kids. If they cannot receive information in the language they natively understand, what then?

Learning and Language go Hand in Hand

If we want our students to absorb and apply the SEL lessons they learn, we can’t do it without giving them the true ability to understand and comprehend what is being communicated.

“Our school’s student population is largely one that does not speak English as their first language,” says fourth-grade ELS teacher Daniella Pineda, of Place Bridge Academy in Denver, Colorado. “Luckily, I speak Spanish as well as English. However, our SEL read-alouds are in English, so those students who don’t speak fluent English must raise their hands to ask for extra help and translation, which adds another step in their being able to understand what their peers already do.”

According to Pineda, this impacts the all-important emphasis all schools are placing on community, equity, and a feeling of belonging. “The language barrier has the power to create a feeling of separation, which is the opposite of what we are all passionately working toward for these young students.”

For parents, the challenge is real, too. “I am a working mom and speak Spanish as my first language,” says Whendy del Hiero, mother to a fourth- and eighth-grader at the Denver Language School. “SEL is so important now and, as a parent, it helps me support my kids if I can hear the content in Spanish.”

Solutions for Educators and Parents

“Parents are not educated in SEL skill-teaching; it was not an area of focus for most adults and teachers in generations past,” says Blanca Cervantes, creator of bilingual digital SEL resource, SEL Adventures

“Children today are made responsible for SEL-related subjects, but if they cannot communicate or understand in their native language, the ability for the lessons to take hold is greatly limited,” says Cervantes. “We created SEL Adventures for educators, parents and students so they can learn to be open with their emotions, talk openly, and practice in real life. Children are not equipped to develop these skills on their own. They need help, and they need it offered in the language they speak and understand.”

According to Pineda, “Because I speak Spanish, I believe my students have built a trust that may not be there if I didn’t. I speak with parents using the phone and WhatsApp—in fact, I have a WhatsApp group for parents—but I would be very interested in a way to have all my students, regardless of whether they speak Spanish or English first, become more instantly comfortable with SEL.”

Learn more about SEL Adventures.

Learn more about SEL resources for all grades.

Topics: SEL