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Inside the World of Social Emotional Learning Specialists

Inside the world of Social Emotional Learning Specialists
Posted on 09/12/2019
Social Emotional Learning Specialist Samantha Barrale leads a small group discussion at Stober Elementary in LakewoodThe gym is packed at Stober Elementary in Lakewood. It’s school assembly time, where Principal Anne DiCola is giving her students feedback. “This has been an awesome week so far…”

Some students are highlighted as Stober Stars, kids who’ve done a good job consistently demonstrating school values of safety, teamwork, achievement, respect, and self-control.

Taking care of the basics is key at Stober, and those basics include a student’s social and emotional needs. That’s where Social Emotional Learning Specialists, or SELS, come in. They’re highly trained mental health professionals who help manage the day-to-day ups and downs any student can experience.

At Stober, that professional is Samantha Barrale. “We’re actually going into our third year next year of having a SEL Specialist. And frankly I can't imagine our school without her at this point. She's truly become part of the fabric of our community,“ says Stober principal  Anne DiCola.

In a darkened classroom, Barrale helps facilitate a low-key circle chat, where students communicate how they’re feeling, sometimes by comparing themselves to a specific color. Barrale says small groups help build trust, and help make the children feel safe about opening up about challenges or conflicts.

Some of the group work Barrale does with students involves getting along with each other, problem solving, managing strong emotions, and calming down strategies.

Barrale works in tandem with Stober’s social worker, Liz Behrens. “To have her is like eyes and a heart that care about kids that can tell me ‘Hey your kiddo was struggling yesterday and this is what it looked like.’ That's so meaningful to me to be able to have someone to keep an eye on all of our kids,” says Barrale. 

“The Social Emotional Learning Specialist really helps with that universal social emotional support and is a pretty integral part of our school culture in terms of supporting what we want for all kids,” explains principal DiCola. 

Thanks to voter approved 5A mill levy money, Jeffco is increasing the number of SEL Specialists as part of the district’s overall expansion of mental health support for its schools. This year, every elementary school in the district will have access to these specialists. 

SELS classroom work at Stober Elementary also involves co-teaching the Second Step curriculum, research-based learning to promote the social-emotional development, safety, and well-being of children. 

“The mental health need is greater than it has been. Suicide rates are increasing, especially among young children,” Barrale offers. Bully prevention is another component, and, when needed, school staffers can tap SELS' expertise too.

“The caseload is ever changing and in mental health we really don't have caps on caseloads and that doesn't account for a crisis that comes up or special events or things that happen. We just have to be thinking on our feet all the time and there can never be enough help with that,” says DiCola. “Just having another lens for which to support mental health support in the school is extremely beneficial. They're amazing.”

Social worker Liz Behrens praises the work of SELS - "I absolutely think Stober’s a better school because of the SELS work.” 

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