Guest blog by Congressman Tim Ryan
In Youngstown, Ohio, over half of children live in poverty. That is to say that the majority of students in Youngstown are living with income-based trauma that they take into school every single day. This is a crisis that demands an avenue for students to learn both healthy personal and interpersonal skills within the school day. The solution lies in pushing forward legislation that funds social and emotional learning (SEL) programs so that we can ensure students have the opportunity to become community leaders and engaged citizens.
We can’t expect students to become these people while they’re grappling with the weight of living below the poverty line. It’s crucial that we give children the tools they need to find healthy emotional outlets before they exit the school system and begin their career. Kids need to be able to create healthy connections with their peers, educators, and family members in order to foster an interest in improving the world around them.
This cannot be done without a fundamental shift in our school’s curriculum that includes an emphasis on social and emotional learning.
The good thing is that we know how to implement these programs because it has already been done in our own backyard. Warren, Ohio has been systematically implementing SEL for twelve years now, and the results are astounding. The American Institute for Research found positive changes in classroom behavior and an increase in mindfulness amongst student interactions. These are the fundamentals for students to begin making those meaningful connections in their community.
The benefits of social and emotional learning don’t cease with fostering healthy connections. For quite some time, the effects of social and emotional learning on academics have been crystal clear. Several hundred research studies have proven that social and emotional learning can improve academic performance by 11 percentile points. It seems like a no-brainer to fund a program that has great potential to move Ohio up from it’s 31st place in the U.S. News and World Report ranking for how well states are educating their students.
We can do better for our kids. By investing in social and emotional learning in Ohio, we can set them up to be successful adults that have the capabilities to make impactful change. A long-term study by the American Journal of Public Health points towards evidence that social and emotional learning programs implemented as early as Kindergarten decrease the likelihood of using public housing, having involvement with the police, or spending time in a detention facility.
As if it wasn’t enough that social and emotional learning programs improve the lives of our future leaders in such meaningful ways, there’s a proven 11:1 financial return on investment for SEL programs.
I’ve made strides in funding these types of programs since 2009, and I don’t intend to stop.
Right now, I’m introducing the Social and Emotional Learning for Families (SELF) Act, which supports a competitive grant program under the Department of Education to fund social and emotional learning programs. This grant program would support the development of successful teachers, principals, and other school leaders. This involves instruction in research-based social and emotional skills, professional development for teachers, and programming that encourages participation by families. The grant also supports public-private partnerships with local higher education entities, nonprofits, and community development organizations.
I’ve seen firsthand how these programs have impacted cities like Youngstown and Warren, and I want to ensure that more schools across Ohio have the opportunity to transform their students in the same ways. It’s time that we fund programs that work to impact the lives of children in poverty from the ground up.
These kids are our future, and it’s only fair that we give them the resources to grow into the leaders that they have the potential to be.
Tim Ryan, Member of Congress