A new initiative at LSA has done wonders building confidence and communication skills for children in our after-school program. The initiative involves socio-emotional groups for kids in grades K-3 that engage them in group discussions and activities around books.
The focus on socio-emotional development correlates with high academic achievement, increased motivation and engagement in learning. The goal of the initiative is to provide a space for children where they can build reading skills, feel comfortable working as part of a group and, most importantly, find meaning in what they read in a way that relates to their own personal experience. We believe this is how we will support a community of learners and a strong love of reading.
The program, which started in September, has been very popular among the children. And, along with tutoring and homework help, the groups have helped the children improve academically, with 80-90% of the children showing better grades in math, ELA or both since the beginning of the school year.
We spoke with Jadie Vasquez, who has been managing the socio-emotional groups, to learn more…
Describe how the socio-emotional groups work.
In the past, the afterschool program only included tutoring and homework help. This year we decided to incorporate the socio-emotional group.
We designed it with AfterSchool KidzLit, because we still wanted the groups to have an educational component. Wendy [Wendy Miron, Director of the Parenting and Child Development program] and I had to get trained for it, along with the interns. KidzLit gave us books along with instructions on how to do different activities that encourage the children to engage together. The children are reading, they’re writing, they’re working in groups, they’re doing a lot of hands-on activities. We have two groups separated by age, so both groups read the same book but do different activities that work best according to the children’s ages.
The main goal is to help children feel comfortable enough to communicate, either in a group setting or one on one. It’s important that the children feel like they have a safe space. A lot of them don’t have that – a lot of them are loners in school. They don’t talk to anybody. So we want them to have that sense of friendship, a sense of belonging to something, when they come here. Then there is the educational part of it, which is learning how to work together, how to dissect a book. Even if it takes a long time, we give them the chance to explore the world of the book and the artistic freedom to create something inspired from it.
How does that benefit the child emotionally?
It helps the children to open up socially and to be comfortable in a group setting, which, for a lot of them, was a very hard thing to do. When we started in September, some of them didn’t even want to raise their hand, they didn’t want to tell you their name, they didn’t want to talk to the person next to them.
It was a rough road. But now you can see the difference. The children actually want to raise their hand and participate. Now they feel part of this special group, where they feel safe, where they can talk about things happening in their lives. So it goes beyond the book. For example, if someone is feeling sad one day, we might talk about it – as a group! The children learn to share their feelings, which isn’t easy at such a young age. The books become a tool to help children open up. And learning to communicate in general and to open up emotionally, in turn, helps them in school.
It’s been such an amazing journey to see them evolve the way that they have. The children that you least expected to open up are the ones that are above the stars right now, just loving this group. When we’re on a break, they ask: ‘why don’t we have group tomorrow?’ Having them want to do it makes all the difference in the world.
How does the socio-emotional group complement the tutoring and homework help?
One great example is a small child, in kindergarten, who is in the program. His tutor had a difficult time just getting him to speak with her. It’s very hard to help a child when he doesn’t even want to talk to you or he’s very shy and doesn’t communicate. When he did talk, it was only in a whisper. I told the tutor: let’s give it some time. So the first thing we did is isolate him and the tutor so that they could work together without distractions. The second thing we did was work really hard in the socialization group to have him feel comfortable around adults and his peers.
Two months down the line – he had a complete 180. Now the child is talking. He’s speaking louder; he has the confidence to tell his tutor, ‘Okay – I want to do this now.’ He’s a completely different kid. And I know that, in addition to the tutor working very hard and being persistent, the socio-emotional group had a lot to do with that, because he started feeling comfortable with the group.
He isn’t the only one this has happened with; it happened with two or three of the children. The socio-emotional group has been a big part of them opening up and being more vocal.
Has it made a difference for the kids in school?
Absolutely. We believe that it makes a difference not only here with the tutors and at home, but also at school. It’s all connected. If you don’t want to speak to the teacher, if you don’t want to communicate with your peers, if you have trouble working in groups, that’s going to affect you in school. Those are all things you have to do at one point in a school setting.
So when the kids get that practice here and start to feel that it’s okay, it gives them more courage to do it in school. Now – all of a sudden – the kindergarten student who wasn’t speaking, comes in here and speaks to everyone. In school, he’s talking to the teacher, something that he was having difficulty doing. It’s all a domino effect.
Are you tracking results?
We have collected report cards from the beginning. Since September, about 80-90% of the students have done better in math or literature or both. The kindergarten student I mentioned started the year with ones and now he’s getting twos and threes. I share that information with the tutors so that they know what’s happening and we’re all on the same page.
How did the book project come about?
My vision was to do something they could work on as a group. Because really, that’s what the socio-emotional group was about, to be able to work together and see themselves as a team. Everyone gets an assignment and everyone gets to vote and make decisions together. We helped give them structure and started the ball rolling. They took the time and figured it all out together. They drew together, they wrote the book together. It was an amazing process watching them take the lead. They were very proud of themselves, and it felt like this was something that really showed how hard they worked throughout the year.