May is Mental Health Month, a time to focus on and recognize the importance of effective mental health supports and practices.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is one evidence-based, practical method of supporting mental health and helping students, educators, and families maintain balance and well-being.

As reported by CASEL, 213 SEL studies involving more than 270,000 students found that SEL interventions: increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points; improved classroom behavior; increased students’ ability to manage stress and depression; and promoted better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.

SEL is a great mental health practice to employ, both in the classroom and at home. When SEL is effectively implemented as an initiative, students stay active and engaged, ask for help when needed, and build positive relationships with peers.

While SEL can be implemented in many ways, Franklin Elementary School has seen great success in its practices and was included in New Jersey Department of Education's comprehensive, school-based Mental Health Resource Guide, acting as a testament to the Newark school community's tireless efforts. This guide is intended to assist staff in developing, implementing, and evaluating mental health support and services within schools throughout the state.

Franklin School's incredible SEL journey over the past five years has produced notable results. The school is participating in the Building School-Wide SEL (BWSEL) pilot and is currently a pre-kindergarten through seventh grade (P-7) school, scheduled to become a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade (P-8) school in the fall of 2023. As discussed in the guide, the SEL Leadership Team evaluated students' social and emotional needs through a "Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire" and addressed those who needed more support. 

As a result of this initiative, which Newark Trust has partnered with the Franklin School on, educators were better able to keep students on-task in the classroom and experienced fewer disciplinary issues. Educators also recognized the benefits of rewarding positive behavior, which led to students regulating their own behaviors. Because Franklin – staff members, families, and students – have reaped the rewards from its SEL initiatives, it continues to host monthly SEL grade level meetings for all staff, SEL leadership team meetings, and bi-monthly student support team meetings where targeted support group updates are discussed. Through this process, the school has found that having SEL be a focal point assists school staff, students, and families.

The full case study on Franklin School’s work was released during our 2022 Safe & Supportive Learning Environments Summit and can be viewed here. You can also view the Mental Health Resource Guide, with Franklin School’s case study on pages on 105 to 107.