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Merging the Head and Heart

Heart kids

Education in The School District of University City is a head and heart business.
To nurture strong learners, the District aims to seamlessly blend modern, rigorous and relevant instruction
with intentional work to foster well-being and joy. This school year, the District’s offices of Student Services, Well-Being,
and Curriculum and Instruction have been working together to ensure that classroom teachers and staff
embrace an educational model called SEEAL– a model that intentionally blends
Social, Emotional, Equitable and Academic Learning in the classroom.
Regardless of the academic discipline, be it literature, social studies, math or physics,
academic learning is strengthened when it is blended with heartfelt teaching
that nurtures relationships, inclusion and positive social emotional practices.

Below are two articles on ways the District strives to ensure social emotional learning and academic learning go hand-in-hand.

Student buildingMeasuring Well-Being Through Panorama

How do we know if our Well Being and Joy approach is working to enhance learning?
What can we tweak to be more effective? Evaluation and data are key components in monitoring our progress.

Since 2018, the District has been using an evaluation system called Panorama. Panorama measures social emotional well-being factors in our elementary, middle and high school students. All students in grades 3-12, staff, and parents are asked to fill out a Panorama survey at the beginning and end of each school year. Over time, this growing body of data enables District leaders and teachers to gauge how we are doing to ensure our students, staff and families are well. The data can be drilled down to school building, grade level, classroom and even individual students. The data set is compared to aggregate Panorama data nationwide to inform all staff how we compare by age and by specific measures. (Click here for PDF of full story.)

SEEAL 101Teachers Get a Course in SEEAL: Social, Emotional, Equitable and Academic Learning

Think back to the positive teachers and classes that have stuck with you the most.
What was it that made them unforgettable? Was it the coursework? Or was it the teacher?

Most likely, it was a powerful combination of both: an educator that deeply connected with you through coursework and discussion that was both challenging and meaningful. This is what the District means when it strives to educate with both the head and the heart. In reality, the best learning emerges from teachers who humanize their students. They intentionally integrate positive social emotional practices into concrete lesson plans and teaching practices.

The School District of University City calls this SEEAL, an acronym for social, emotional, equitable and academic learning. There is a skill set needed for this type of teaching. So, this school year, all of the District’s K-12 teachers have been participating in professional development course called SEEAL 101. (Click here for PDF of full story.)

Sidebar: Well-Being and Joy is a School District of University City strategic priority, but what does it really mean for our students, staff, families, parents and caregivers?

Does it involve activities like yoga, mindfulness, gardening and restorative practices? Absolutely. Does it involve supporting challenged families with household essentials, extra food and free clothing through our District boutique? Always. 

But that is not all. In The School District of University City, well-being recognizes and addresses adverse mental health, past trauma, the stress of racial inequity, the impact of poverty, cultural bias in the classroom and racial disparities in learning outcomes and achievement. It is the District’s responsibility to intentionally address these needs with services, programs, staffing, partnerships and resources so our students are well. When students are well, they learn better and can achieve excellence.

Here is a sampling of the ways The School District of University City nurtures well-being and joy in its daily culture:

  • Intensive resources and easy access to school-based counselors, social workers and professional therapists for our students and their families.
  • Well-being specialists embedded in schools to ensure seamless service delivery and staff and student support.
  • Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) for students. This year, the District hired a director of MTTS to ensure seamless integration.
  • Culturally and Linguistically Responsive (CLR) approaches in classrooms to mediate racial and cultural bias that harms student achievement.
  • Restorative practices through the use of restorative circles, a high school Restorative Justice Class and restorative justice to resolve conflict and address disciplinary issues.
  • One U City, a parent-community organization serving all elementary schools and Brittany Woods Middle School through an equity mindset. 
  • Robust partnerships with nonprofits, service providers, faith-based organizations and governmental entities to bring mental health resources, training, services and other support. Partners include Alive & Well Communities, St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund, the STLCollective, St. Louis Community Foundation and premier institutions like Washington University, The Magic House @Made, COCA and The Saint Louis Zoo. 
  • Creation of new, cozy and bright student wellness spaces in all schools, and upgrading staff lounges with coffee stations, bright art and new furniture for breaks and building staff community.