Could Social Emotional Learning shape our generation?

“It sincerely comes from a place of trying to help kids.” –Coach Rudy


Rachel McCoy

These are screenshots from School Connect lessons taught by Coach Rudy.

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In the jar of our lives with limited time, are the rocks your priority or are the little beans eating up your time? This strange year has really shown what is most important in life, like family, friends, hobbies and school.

The rocks and beans metaphor is one of the Social Emotional Lessons (SEL) that middle and high school students experienced in the twice-weekly PREP class lessons.

Since the school year began, Frederick County students in middle school (required) and  high school (optional) have been doing Social Emotional Learning lessons. Some hate it. Some love it. FCPS is counting on the repetition of these lessons helping students cope.

Social Emotional learning(SEL) is when students acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.

FCPS began incorporating these lessons in elementary school first.  With Covid-19, the leadership moved more quickly to incorporate the lessons in upper levels.

In 2008 a study was conducted by the Implications for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Core Elements. The research indicates that well-planned and well-implemented SEL programming can positively affect students social, health, behavioral, and academic outcomes. While some might think that they are taking away from actually real learning to do these SEL lessons. They are not hurting the students’ success, actually in this study it showed that students’ test scores went up by 11 percent.

The man behind all of it has a salt and pepper beard and is mostly seen wearing casual t-shirts with motivating slogans. His name is R. Keeth Matheny, but students know him as Coach Rudy. 

Coach Rudy has been with the platform called School Connect since 2012. Before school closures in the spring, he was traveling to different schools around the country setting up social emotional lessons. When coronavirus forced closures, he saw a need for students to still be giving the support they were offered in school. So he started creating flipped lessons called EQ in your PJs.

Coach Rudy first started filming himself in his garage using his phone camera–very low-tech. With the help of his son, who is coincidentally studying film in college, Coach Rudy began making more professional material. He also was able to reach the audience of teenagers since he has a daughter in high school who also helped with making sure the content is  something teenagers would enjoy doing. These lessons were and still are available to watch for free on Coach Rudy’s YouTube.

Students and teachers all across the country were reaching out to Matheny, after liking the series EQ in your PJs. But with the hope of returning back to school and “normal life,”  Coach Rudy thought there would be no need for anymore virtual lessons. But with no end in sight, Coach Rudy and School Connect began making more lessons that all students could relate to and could watch virtually. 

Coach Rudy said, “My whole purpose in life is how can I help more kids get social emotional support because I really believe in this.”

The lessons did exist before Covid, but School Connect had to change all of them to relate to what is going on this fall.  They are now called EQ from Home

EQ from Home is an 80-lesson multimedia curriculum designed to improve high school students’ social, emotional, and academic skills and strengthen relationships among students and between students and teachers. The great thing about EQ from Home is that it can be taught anywhere and anytime. 

But for Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) Social Emotional Learning is not new.

Ann McGreevy, Supervisor of Mental Health & Psychological Services, and the FCPS leadership had been exploring the SEL lessons for three years. They found at the elementary school level that there were kids who had the potential to learn but could not do it productively because they could not regulate their emotions. So, they tried a pilot SEL program in a couple elementary schools. The data from these schools reveals that attendance went up and referral rates went down.

Frederick County is the first county to expand SEL to all grade levels.  This start in elementary school is going to make these kids grow in these changes and learn and master the 5 areas of SEL are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision and be able to use them in their everyday life and learning.

According to McGreevy, FCPS was planning to move SEL lessons into middle and high school in 2020-2021, but when Covid-19 hit, they had to figure out how to do that.

Teachers were asking, ‘Please help me.’”

— Ann McGreevy

McGreevy said, “These lessons are only going to be implemented this year. They were put into place as an emergency measure to support students and teachers this year because of the negative effects of social isolation and the resulting anxiety caused by COVID, and the racial unrest and trauma affiliated with it.” 

They chose School Connect, one of the platforms they were exploring before, they felt it was a good research based program and was one of the only programs offered that could be done virtually.

“It’s not a magic wand.  It’s teaching the competencies we all need,” said McGreevy.

These competencies will help students not only label their emotions, but regulate them as well.  The goal is long-term positive impact on students.

FCPS made the commitment that they would purchase their program for every middle school and high school. At Linganore High School the SEL lessons are considered mandatory. These lessons are taught every Tuesday and Thursday during PREP.

It’s hard to get students to engage with the lessons.

Sammie Hoefs, members of the Class of 2021 said, “I don’t really see the need for the social emotional learning. I feel prep should be a way for students to express their problems or get help. Ms. Baker is my prep teacher and is always able to help me with whatever I am struggling with.  Prep should be about meeting in smaller groups to express and work our problems in a safe environment.”

But the pros out-way the cons.

Matthew Coffey, member of the Class of 2022 said, “I enjoy these SEL lessons because they create discussions with classmates allowing us to learn more about each other.”

Some of the school connect lessons include Creating a Supportive Learning Environment, Studying Effectively and Managing Stress Before It Manages You. 

At the end of the day with the help of Social Emotional Learning, the problems of growing up in the 21st century will not go away, but it will teach young people how to deal with and adapt to them.