SEL specialists meet with students in grades 5 and 6 for one class each week. The fifth grade program goals encourage preadolescent students to:
- become more aware of personal choices that promote self-confidence and emotional intelligence.
- gain insight into skills that promote cooperation and teamwork, while expanding leadership, empathy, and personal problem solving.
- develop positive communication and conflict-resolution skills.
- enhance group trust and respect for individual differences.
Teaching methods draw from experiential learning and group work, discussion, writing, improvisation, role-play, and visual arts, which serve as catalysts for building emotional and social intelligence skills. Students create community agreements for respectful behavior by identifying what it takes to activate respect for other students in the community, for the school grounds, and for themselves. Fifth graders participate in open session discussions, a hallmark of the Nueva SEL program for Middle School students. Using student-generated social and emotional issues such as personal decisions, real-life friendship struggles, and normal stresses of growing up and gaining responsibility, they apply the listening skills of clarifying their classmates’ issues, offering support and encouragement, and providing practical advice and solutions.
Students brainstorm solutions to the dilemmas of peer pressure or pressure from within themselves. They review strategies of making assertive statements, enlisting adult help, ignoring situations, speaking out together, changing one's internal response and attitude, and uncovering assumptions and misperceptions. They explore the questions "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?" from multiple angles, using art, story, games, and self-reflection. They also explore issues related to technology and identity. They set goals and intentions and find ways to support each other and themselves to meet these personal goals.
Students learn and practice a variety of mindfulness techniques, using breath, body awareness, and movement to enhance focus and concentration. Guided-imagery and meditation techniques are reviewed and new approaches are taught to promote greater self-control and well-being. Students also learn about the brain and current research connecting mindfulness training with physical and emotional health.
The sixth grade program encourages preadolescent students to:
- understand each student's strengths and accept differences.
- hone skills necessary to work effectively in partnerships and groups, such as questioning/listening, empathizing, asserting oneself, and negotiating.
- explore the complexities and value of genuine friendship.
- encourage a healthy perspective and truthful understanding of bodies, nutrition, and puberty.
- guide students toward ethical thought and action.
At the beginning of the year, integrating new and returning students is the priority, and activities build community through exploration of identity, individuality, similarities, and differences. Students work through ethical issues introduced by technology as they prepare for the laptop program. As the first dance approaches, students have opportunities to ask questions, relieve anxiety, and seek mentorship from older schoolmates. Later in the year, students spend SEL time preparing for their class trip to Washington DC.
The rest of the curriculum involves topics such as bullying, gender stereotypes, social media, peer pressure, friendship, cliques, conflict resolution, and puberty. Teachers choose topics in an order and pace relevant to the needs of the particular group of individuals.
Grades 7 & 8
The program goals for students in grades 7–8 are to:
- understand stress and develop personal coping and prevention strategies.
- gain insight into cooperation and competition, expanding leadership skills, empathy, and personal problem solving.
- develop strong, effective communication and conflict-resolution skills.
- enhance trust and embrace differences within the community.
- explore nutrition and health in order to recognize satiety and make healthy and nutritious choices.
- become more self-aware and socially aware and contemplate their relationship to the world, others, and themselves.
SEL classes meet weekly for both grades. These older students begin to practice more independence and to become more aware of how others see them. Adolescents start to think more abstractly and rationally. They are shaping their moral code. Students review, examine, and elaborate on their SEL foundation and how these skills can help them form personal boundaries and values. Students discuss gender roles and stereotypes, the media's influence on ideals, establishing a personal code of ethics, nutrition, identity, drugs and alcohol, respectful relationships, and empathy. Above all, students continue to learn how to manage one's response to stress and strong emotions, a lifelong task for personal growth.
At least once a month, students engage in an Open Session, a class period in which peers respond to student-generated issues through an intentional, supportive exchange of listening and ideas. This invaluable experience allows students to offer their personal wisdom, advice, or clarification to guide peers to a healthy resolution to everyday problems. Not only does this strengthen their SEL toolbox, it opens their eyes to how much they have to offer each other, empowering them with skills and motivation.