Social Emotional Learning Week is here – let’s SELebrate

SEL Week is upon us, and we’re celebrating the power of emotions, relationships, and self-awareness in shaping resilient, compassionate young people and communities.
Students in our Lewis & Clark Trailblazers Afterschool Academy are versed in mindfulness, centering techniques, and a host of activities to moderate mood.
What is SEL? That stands for Social Emotional Learning, a framework that emphasizes emotional intelligence, empathy, and personal growth. SEL is the process through which individuals acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to:
›› understand and manage emotions;
›› set and achieve positive goals;
›› feel and show empathy for others;
›› establish and maintain positive relationships; and
›› make responsible decisions.
In a world where stress and uncertainty can dominate, SEL equips young people with tools to navigate life’s ups and downs with grace and resilience. And it’s a vital tool in Civic Nebraska’s efforts to build the state’s next generation of young civic leaders.
“Today’s students are being pulled in every direction all of the time, so that makes SEL in our space very useful,” said Tracy White, senior site director at the Trailblazer Afterschool Academy at Omaha’s Lewis & Clark Middle School. “There are so many demands on their attention, and they face daily challenges to articulate how they’re feeling or what their emotions are at a given time.
“It’s important for them to develop their voices in a world that is full of noise and only getting noisier. With Social Emotional Learning, we address head-on how they can develop their voices,” she added.
Trailblazer Afterschool Academy students are versed in mindfulness, centering techniques, and developing self-awareness. They are regularly provided space and time to healthily unpack what they’re experiencing and to be intentional about how they react to their changing moods. White and her staff continually reinforce SEL concepts, embedding them in everyday programming in the five-day-a-week after-school program – checking students’ moods and energy levels, discussing how a tricky or troubling situation is handled, and regular exercises and activities.
Along the way, students gain a greater sense of self, White said. More importantly, they learn that it’s OK to be themselves.
“One big emphasis for us is for students to know who they are, not who society tries to tell them who they are,” she said. “With SEL, they begin to recognize their true selves and, importantly, to be all right with that.”
Lothrop second-graders often lead their activities. Here a student leads his classmates in “Wait For It!,” which provides three different “busy” movements or gestures. Students must pay attention, remember, and follow the same movements. 
At Civic Nebraska’s Lothrop Elementary CLC in Omaha, Senior Site Director Equasha Smith sees firsthand how SEL benefits K-5 students. Lothrop’s SEL techniques include “Kernels” – games, activities, and routines that are built from evidence-based programs, and that help youngsters develop life skills. For example, on a recent weekday, CLC youth laid face-up in a circle on the Lothrop gymnasium floor for an exercise simply about breathing. They practiced taking slow, deep breaths as a way to center themselves and transition from the school day to the after-school program.
She said she was pleased to see the students’ enthusiastic response.
“They have taken ownership of the Kernels activities – so much so that in some cases, they’re leading some of them on their own,” Smith said.
SEL goes beyond classroom walls, too: At its best, the framework also helps build communities that are focused on compassion and understanding. When schools prioritize SEL, they create educational environments where empathy is the norm, differences are celebrated, and everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. SEL-oriented school programs often see improvements in academic achievement, behavior, and overall well-being.
SEL Week is a time to celebrate, educate, and advocate for Social Emotional Learning – and a brighter, more compassionate world. Join us in lifting empathy, resilience, and the journey of self-discovery, won’t you?