The city launched its social emotional learning curriculum two years ago, and the effort to help students cope with their feelings is set to play a big role in the next school year. 

In fact, in one classroom on Staten Island, it's already making a big difference.

“We're going to pass the clap to just get us all focused, so that we know that we are ready to start our circle,” Nadine Thompson tells her class.

What You Need To Know

  • The city's social emotional learning curriculum is aimed at helping students understand and manage their emotions

  • It launched two years ago, and teachers like Nadine Thompson say it's making a big difference

  • First Lady Chirlane McCray and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter visited her class Thursday

She is kicking off a discussion in her third grade classroom at P.S. 78. But it is not just any classroom chat.

“Our circle is a safe space for everyone to share how they’re feeling,” she says.

This lesson, taught by Thompson and special education co-teacher Nicole Attardo, is part of the city’s social emotional learning curriculum, championed by First Lady Chirlane McCray, who along with Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter joined the circle. The curriculum is aimed at helping students identify and manage their feelings.

“It's just as important as reading, writing,” Thompson says. “If the kids don't know how to process their emotions and express them in a positive way, then it comes out in bad behaviors, and it interferes with the reading, the writing, the math — and none of those things will get done in a day if the kids aren't able to deal with the emotions that they walk into school with.”

In the circle, students start off by sharing their moods, and then working through scenarios they might encounter, like struggling with their math assignments.

"What are some feelings that you might be feeling if you're in math class, you sit down to take a test?” Thompson asks.

The students toss a beach ball around to determine who speaks next.

"Angry and overwhelmed,” one student replies.

They also learn coping mechanisms to deal with those kinds of emotions, and Thompson says it’s made a big difference in how students react to stressful situations.

“The kids would start asking for help, they would take breathers. They started relying on taking a walk to cool down. We have our calm down center in our classroom,” she says.

The training also changed how teachers react when a student acts out.

“You would immediately think that the student was showing disrespect to the teacher or the adult in the room,” she says, referring to reactions before the training. “And after the training, we started looking at it and really thinking about what was driving the behavior, and realizing that some of these students are coming to school every day with so much emotional weight on them.”

Many students here have lost loved ones to the coronavirus, or deal with other family struggles. And having both the students and the adults in the classroom more aware of the feelings that come with those struggles has been a game changer.

“Not all feelings are good feelings, but there are ways to work through the negative things that we are feeling,” Thompson says.