NYC School Starts Screening Students for Social and Emotional Skills

Principal Emily Page wanted to change the culture of the school.

Her Brooklyn Middle School, Urban Assembly Unison, landed on the state’s list of poorly performing schools five years ago and saw some reported cases of destructive or violent behavior.

Page turned to the Urban Assembly School network and suggested that staff use a 10-minute online screener for each child to understand their children’s social and emotional skills. Page believes it was the first step towards increasing trust between students and staff and building an overall social and emotional curriculum at Unison.

“It helped teachers start finding ways to actively build opportunities for students to exercise positive behavioral habits that build these skill sets,” Paige said.

School staff in New York City will start next month Use this screening tool — Known as the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, or DESSA — Understand the social and emotional health of students after nearly two years of unprecedented turmoil.

How it works: A teacher or other staff member answers questions about students with an online screener. Questions focus on student social and emotional skills such as decision making, self-awareness, and personal responsibility. Authorities haven’t pointed out a specific date, but a department spokesman said next month that he would begin rolling out tools to schools “to give adults time to get to know students” before filling out a screener. rice field. It will be the same screener or shorter version that Page used. Staff wants staff to spend the first few weeks of school “building relationships” with students, such as through individual check-ins, as suggested in the system’s “Bridge To School” plan. is.

In July, the city signed a three-year, $ 18 million contract with Aperture. This is an educational technology company that has created a platform that includes the screening tools themselves and tools that staff can use to determine the support students need. Approving Contracts and Policies for Major Schools Twenty-five other schools are already using this screener, according to a description of the contract to the Education Policy Committee, a board appointed primarily by the mayor.

According to a spokesperson for the education department, some children may need individual or group counseling, mentoring, or building social skills in small groups. Others may need time in class to write a diary. This tool is also useful for creating behavioral intervention plans for students. The results are used to determine support for students, but the school does not have to provide anything specific, the spokesman said.

Officials said the goal for this year was for all schools to use screeners, but schools already using such tools would not be expected to use it, spokesmen said. Said. The education department has begun contacting “selected schools” and senior undergraduate officials to explain how schools can use screeners. The department plans to discuss screeners with more school communities, including staff and families, “in the coming weeks” through meetings, emails, and professional development sessions.

Many staff do not yet seem to be aware of how screeners are used, and many families are unaware of the school’s plans for social skills screening or allow parents to opt out of their children. Will be. Some advocates have high hopes for this tool, but are concerned about how the assessment and its results will be communicated or will be communicated to the family.

“I’ve never heard of a comprehensive plan to inform families about this assessment. I think it’s important for families to know that some students are being evaluated and for parents and caregivers to know. Rohini Singh, senior staff attorney for the School Justice Project at the advocacy organization Advocates For Children, said.

Vanessa Beres, a social worker at a school in Manhattan, said she didn’t hear more about screeners than she read in the news. She has already been referred to a student staff who is showing signs of anxiety or needs additional support. This usually happens in the second half of the school year.

She said she wasn’t sure if screeners would help, especially beyond what the school was already doing, and worried that it would just be another task for teachers.

“I’m not saying this is useless, and it’s probably useful in some schools,” Velez said. “I think it’s a big problem. This big vague thing that should happen.”

“Permission” to slow down

DESSA screener was the first Created in 2008. City officials advertise that screening tools are based on their strengths. That is, rather than looking for negative behaviors, such as whether the child is often annoying their peers, the focus is on asking and building positive behaviors of the student. That’s also why schools are optimistic about Advocates for Children’s lawyer, Singh, so that they don’t just focus on “risk factors.”

NS Early research DESSA screeners have shown that they are “very effective” in identifying students with social, emotional, and behavioral problems. By the end of the school year, students identified as needing social and emotional support by a short version of the screener were 4.5 times more likely to have “serious” disciplinary action, according to a 2016 survey. ..

In Unison, it can be difficult to see some of the results on paper.

According to the data provided by Page, the daily attendance rate of the school had hardly increased before the school where the pandemic was closed. And chronic absenteeism actually worsened at first, before improving by almost 6 percentage points before the pandemic.

According to a school survey, the percentage of students who said they trust teachers increased slightly from 2016-2017, when schools were considered “risk” schools, and in 2018 in the next school year. It decreased slightly, but in 2019.

But for Page, the changes in school culture are obvious. An undergraduate spokesperson said behavior-related incidents at school decreased by 58% between 2014 and 2015 and the school year before the pandemic began, but he said he would provide yearly data. Rejected.

According to Page, screeners have helped teachers find ways to practice positive social skills, such as improving students’ personal responsibilities. For example, her teacher is expected to be more academic in grade 6 because she is unfamiliar with junior high school, allowing grade 6 to practice scheduling and class management during the first month and a half of the grade. I know to take the time. The school used advisory sessions to tackle these skills and now has an entire social and emotional curriculum in which students begin to evaluate their skills four times a year.

She believes this tool will be especially important this year as many students will return to the building for the first time since March 2020. While many students have long struggled in isolation, others may be dealing with the death of their loved ones. Others may be prosperous at home and nervous about returning to school.

“This tool gives staff that time and space, and gives them permission to think about each child really slowly and individually, in a way that every child really needs this year,” Paige said. increase.

“Drink from the fire hose”

Aperture, the company that created the screening tool platform, declined the interview request and instead referred Chalkbeat to the city authorities.

Aperture states on its website that it works with more than 3,000 schools, but it’s unclear if it includes the entire New York City school district.Connecticut Announce transaction In March, I purchased a social and emotional screening tool in collaboration with Aperture.

The company seems to be busy with a pandemic: in an interview in May North Carolina Publications, Aperture CEO Jessica Adamson said the company “drinks from a fire hose.”

Many schools that have long focused on social and emotional learning may have already created plans to address the social and emotional needs of their students after a major disruption in face-to-face school education. there is.

Julie Zuckerman, who oversees Castlebridge Elementary School in Washington Heights, said it was the school’s policy to check in individually with the children, especially since some children have not been staffed for 18 months.

“The whole thing the Prime Minister is talking about going home? Anyway, that’s how we start this year,” Zuckerman said.

NYC School Starts Screening Students for Social and Emotional Skills

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