Importance of understanding behavior discussed in podcast hosted by UVA

Martinsville City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Zeb Talley and Director of Pupil Personnel Services Felicia Preston recently presented information about how the school system is emphasizing social and emotional learning on a podcast hosted by the University of Virginia.  

Social and emotional learning, or SEL, is the process by which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL allows the district to look deeper into what is causing a child’s behavior.  

“What we see on the surface is a child’s behavior,” said Preston. “What we don’t see are the factors like, hunger, environmental stress, or physical safety that are the underlying triggers. SEL is a vital tool we can use to better assess behavioral issues and handle situations with holistic understanding of why this may be happening.”  

School officials outlined measures it is putting in place, or has already put in place, to enhance SEL in its schools.  

All school counselors have created plans for their school counseling programs that incorporates SEL into everyday activities within the school day. Counselors have given resources to classroom teachers to ensure SEL is incorporated into academic lessons. School Counselors, School Psychologist, and Director of Student Services are facilitating PD for staff regarding Trauma Informed Care and Social and Emotional Learning.  

An SEL task force has been created, within the VTSS/Positive Behavior Incentive System Division Level Team. The task force has started discussions with School Level Positive Behavior Incentive System teams on how to continue to support students and staff in during this time and then when everyone transitions back to “normal.” The SEL task force has been researching universal screeners and how to effectively use the results to assist schools with the identification of students who may have additional needs. Counselors are “open” virtually, having virtual office hours, virtual contact forms, and are set up in our student platforms so students can link directly to them for support during the day.  

Some schools have incorporated morning meetings into the first 10 minutes of class to get a feel for how students are doing. Teachers can refer students to the school counselor for additional support if necessary, at any time. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate character education into lessons to teach respect, responsibility, or citizenship.  

Our local Piedmont Community Services Board has a case manager stationed at each of the schools. The division also currently has a Licensed Outpatient Counselor who offers counseling services to students within the schools when in person and has the capacity to conduct tele-counseling if necessary.

The division has the capability to connect with PCS and our local Health Coalition via equipment through its e-BACKPAC grant for behavioral health needs. Two community-based agencies continue to offer TDT services for our students and some students continue to get this service while in the virtual setting, within the community, and other services related to mental health/wellness.  

The city school division continues to feed students through its meal service plan. The Food and Nutrition and Transportation departments collaborate and coordinate all meal deliveries. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, two breakfasts, 2 lunches, and two snacks are provided on each day of delivery. The division serves an average of 3,520 meals and 1,760 snacks per delivery, totaling more than 5,280 meals and/or snacks per delivery three times a week for students.  

Mindfulness is encouraged at all levels, not just with students and families, but also with teachers who can feel overwhelmed in their own circumstances. Administrators promote self-care every day, including providing new strategies on the weekly memos, professional development opportunities, and incentives to bolster staff morale. Professional Development has been offered centered around self-care for staff. Additionally, all staff members may access the division’s Employment Assistance Program (EAP) at no cost if additional support is needed.  

“I am excited about the work Felicia Preston and MCPS is doing to improve student and staff mental wellness,” said Talley. “Our students and staff members are important to us. MCPS plans to do all the things that we can to promote safety and mental well-being. It is a pleasure to share this with other school divisions.”  

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