“O. Henry places a high priority on Social-Emotional Learning,” writes Peter Price, Principal for the past 15 years. “Yes, academics are absolutely critical. But, at the end of the day, our kids’ social and emotional well-being trump academics. We must shower each and every student with love and affection, so that they feel valued, secure, and confident.”
This quote from Mr. Price of O. Henry Middle School (Sara Marler, West Austin News, November 2013) gets to the kernel of what makes O. Henry an outstanding example of Social and Emotional Learning implementation. Mr. Price has worked with his faculty and staff to build a campus climate rooted in empathy and trust, and centered on high-quality student learning.
This connected community of learners has created ACES, which stands for Academics, Curriculum, Enrichment and Support. This advisory structure creates a flexible learning environment in which each individual student receives the most effective learning opportunity tailored to their needs. Need a little extra reading practice? Join a book club and read The Hunger Games! Is a bit of extra support in math your cup of tea? Explore real-world math problems and play engaging math games! Feeling okay about math and reading, but wondering about Quidditch? Have a burning desire to try out fantasy football? Need to dig into some hands-on, in-depth, serious business science? ACES has O. Henry Mustangs covered, and teachers choose and create these enrichment classes based on personal interest and expertise. But wait! What about explicit Social and Emotional Learning instruction?
Every other week, in every ACES course across the whole campus, everyone participates in an SEL lesson. Students and faculty engage with each other around topics like assertive communication, collaboration and group work, empathy, and handling issues like cyberbullying, the focus for the ACES SEL lesson this week. Lessons are based largely on the evidence-based Second Step curriculum, and often include extensions and supplemental materials presented by teachers to make the topic at hand relevant and engaging for each class. This commitment to Social and Emotional Learning, coupled with a focus on developmentally appropriate academic and enrichment opportunities, has created a powerful vehicle for rigorous learning and school community.
This sense of community and engagement permeates O. Henry and contributes to its positive campus culture. The school has enjoyed high academic success rates and recognition on both state and national levels, in large part due to the focus on meeting each individual learner’s academic, social and emotional requirements. Principal Pete Price and his dynamic staff have been willing to seek out successful structures from other schools and districts, take risks, and implement innovative learning techniques, all in the name of creating the best possible learning environment for the diverse needs of the Mustangs that come to O. Henry. We are #AISDProud of the faculty, staff and students at O.Henry Middle School for their commitment to SEL and their vision of high-quality academic, social, and emotional learning for all!
Thanks to Sarah Stone, Social and Emotional Learning Specialist, for her contributions to this post.