At Wilmington schools, learning of a different sort


By Gary Huffenberger - ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com



From left, Restorative Practices Coordinator Justin Goodman and Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling give a presentation about social-emotional learning.

From left, Restorative Practices Coordinator Justin Goodman and Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling give a presentation about social-emotional learning.


Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

WILMINGTON — Like many districts, the Wilmington City Schools (WCS) stress a social-emotional learning piece, and in fact WCS principal and teacher evaluations often include standards relating to its use.

At this week’s WCS Board of Education session, administrators gave an overview of social-emotional learning that occurs within the school buildings, some of which dates back more than a decade.

Generally speaking, social-emotional learning (sometimes called SEL) is “about us knowing and managing our own emotions, also about us setting goals, showing empathy for others, having positive relationships, and making responsible decisions,” said WCS Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling.

And in case anybody is wondering “What about the three R’s?” of reading, writing and arithmetic, research says SEL can have an impact on academics — an 11 percentile point increase on standardized achievement tests, Harmeling said.

So, even though SEL is not in itself an instructional strategy about academics, it can have a positive effect on student achievement, she added.

Furthermore, the benefits go beyond the student body and extend to the teaching staff. Teachers who possess social-emotional abilities are more likely to avoid burnout and stay in the classroom longer.

SEL also fosters a safer school climate.

In addition to Harmeling, WCS restorative practices coordinator Justin Goodman was part of the presentation to the school board about social-emotional learning.

He spoke about Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), noting it may be among the better known of the district’s initiatives as Wilmington schools have utilized PBIS for over 10 years.

PBIS sets clear expectations for students’ behavior in different settings school-wide, with those expectations “taught, retaught and recognized,” said Goodman.

The “restorative practices” approach includes circles sharing. With the circles technique, students and their teacher sit in a circle and, for example, students can just say how they’re feeling. The teacher might start with lighter questions, and work up to more serious prompts.

These circles, Goodman said, give every participant a voice, and help form connections.

He gave an example of their positive potential. He observed a student, who he’s known since elementary grades, in a circles activity, adding that this student hasn’t always had positive interactions with peers.

Goodman noted the student’s body language indicated he was very anxious and not fully engaged with the activity. But after hearing a positive response to his artwork from every person in the circle, his body shifted toward the circle.

As the News Journal reported in spring 2020, WCS decided to add a position titled restorative practices coordinator after staff training in 2019 in restorative practices and then trying the approach in class. The position is paid through Wellness and Success Grant funds.

Later during Monday’s board meeting, Wilmington Middle School Principal Norbert “Bert” Martini said a great thing about circles is that it gives everyone an equal opportunity to have a voice, and it teaches us to listen to each other.

Wilmington High School Principal Samantha Woodruff said the climate and culture goal there is centered around community-building through circles.

In school district business, the board accepted three donations. Scott Allemang donated a Holton euphonium instrument valued at about $2,000 to the band program; Jaime and Kirk Neuenschwander donated $500 to the band program for the purpose of instrument purchase; and the “Dems for Kids” program of the Clinton County Democratic Party donated school supplies valued at about $200.

Board members approved continuing a partnership with a Hamilton County Education Service Center (ESC) mathematics consultant for grades K through 12. The contract is for 13 days at a total cost of $11,635. The cost of the professional development series will be funded out of Title I funds and grants that have been awarded to the high and middle schools.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

From left, Restorative Practices Coordinator Justin Goodman and Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling give a presentation about social-emotional learning.
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2021/01/web1_harmeling_9.jpgFrom left, Restorative Practices Coordinator Justin Goodman and Director of Pupil Services Natalie Harmeling give a presentation about social-emotional learning. Gary Huffenberger | News Journal

By Gary Huffenberger

ghuffenberger@wnewsj.com