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Social & Emotional Learning @ PS 24

For the past 12 years, Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility and PS 24 have worked together to make this diverse Brooklyn school a national model. A centerpiece of Morningside Center's work at PS 24 is our 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution), an innovative, research-based approach for fostering students' social and emotional learning.

About Morningside Center

Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility educates young people for hopeful and intelligent engagement with their world.

A national leader in fostering social and emotional learning (SEL), Morningside Center reaches tens of thousands of educators and students each year through an array of programs that develop such skills as handling anger, being assertive, solving conflicts creatively and nonviolently, and dealing well with diversity. We help teachers make their classrooms more caring and productive. We support students in taking leadership to improve their communities--from the classroom to the world.

Our programs include Resolving Conflict Creatively, which we founded in 1985 as a collaboration with the NYC Board of Education, and The 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution), which integrates social and emotional learning and language arts for grades pre-K to middle school.

Rigorous scientific studies document that our programs are effective in fostering positive social, emotional, and academic development in young people.

About PS 24

PS 24 is located at the heart of the largely Latino, working class neighborhood of Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Morningside Center has been helping foster social and emotional learning (SEL) among PS 24's 780 students since the school opened its doors in 1997. (See below for a definition of SEL.)

PS 24 views social and emotional learning as an essential ingredient for success in life and participation in a democratic society. As such, SEL is for everybody, not only for so-called "high-risk" students as at some schools. PS 24 has become a national model through its innovative efforts to thoroughly integrate SEL into its culture and curriculum.

PS 24's approach gives equal weight to classroom instruction and student leadership. Teachers help students develop skills in listening, assertiveness, anger management, and problem-solving through lessons based on Morningside Center's 4Rs curriculum (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution), which integrates conflict resolution and language arts.

Ninety-five students, grades 3-5, trained as peer mediators, help fellow students talk out conflicts in PS 24's cafeteria, playground, and classrooms. Younger students are trained as "peace helpers." PS 24's peace helpers program got started several years ago when an ambitious second-grader insisted that although he was too young to be a mediator, he knew he could help make peace. Morningside Center's staff developer Emma Gonzalez trained him to be a peace helper, and he worked with his teacher to create a peace corner in his classroom. A peace corner is a place where students who are upset or in conflict can go to calm down, read, think, and perhaps discuss their situation with a peace helper. The school now has dozens of peace helpers who have helped their teachers set up peace corners in all K-2 classrooms.

Diversity is a focus of our work at the school. The 4Rs curriculum includes a unit on diversity in which students share information about their cultural backgrounds and practice skills in standing up to teasing and bullying. Teachers at PS 24 give special attention to the topic during an annual "diversity month" in the spring. Morningisde Center's staff developer also helps coordinate a student diversity panel. The panel, which typically includes five students representing various forms of diversity, makes presentations in classrooms. Panel members describe their own experiences of bias, invite other students to tell their stories, then lead the class in discussing what they can do to help make their school a place where such incidents won't occur in the future.

Morningside Center worked with the school guidance counselor to develop a "Lunch Club Program" for children who need extra help in managing their feelings and behavior. A lunch club is six to ten students who meet voluntarily once or twice a week during lunch and recess. In addition to children with behavior problems, the clubs usually include two or three older peer mediators who assist and serve as mentors for the younger children. In the club meetings, students share what's going on in their lives and practice skills such as assertiveness (being strong, but not mean).

The focus on social and emotional learning doesn't stop when the school day ends. Morningside Center partners with PS 24 to run PAZ ("Peace from A to Z), an award-winning after-school program that serves 240 of PS 24's children every school day of the year from 3 to 6 p.m. The program also serves 100 students during July and August and on school holidays. PAZ has five major components: conflict resolution, cooperative games and sports, arts education, community service, and homework help.

About Social & Emotional Learning

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process by which we develop our capacity to understand and manage feelings, relate well to others, make good decisions, deal well with conflict and other life challenges, and take responsibility for improving our communities0--from the classroom to the world.

In schools where SEL is well implemented, students develop their social and emotional competencies; become partners with adults in creating vibrant learning communities; and learn to care about and respect other people, including those different and far away. A growing body of research shows that they also do better academically.

At its best, SEL is not an add-on "program," but a set of attitudes, practices, and policies fully integrated into the life and culture of the school. As such, SEL is a vision of education and a powerful organizing framework for analysis and action. We can look at everything that goes on in a school and ask: to what extent does it contribute (or not contribute) to students' positive social and emotional development? In short, SEL is a lever for school improvement. As a school integrates SEL into its daily life-from the playground to the classroom to the principal's office-students feel safer and more motivated to learn, adults get more satisfaction from their work, and student achievement goes up.

About The 4Rs

The 4Rs (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution) is a program created by Morningside Center that uses high-quality children's books as a springboard for developing students' social, emotional, and academic skills. The thrust of the 4Rs is creating a caring classroom community. Each grade, preK to middle school, has its own curriculum with seven units:

  • Building community
  • Dealing with feelings
  • Becoming a better listener
  • Learning to be assertive
  • Dealing well with conflict
  • Celebrating diversity & countering prejudice
  • Making a difference

Each unit is based on a children's book, carefully chosen for its high literary quality and relevance to the theme. All of the units have two parts. Book Talk suggests activities - discussion, writing, and roleplay - for deepening students' understanding of the book and connecting it to their lives. Applied Learning consists of conflict resolution lessons related to the theme.

By highlighting universal themes of conflict, feelings, relationships, and community, the 4Rs curriculum adds meaning and depth to literacy instruction. Since reading and writing are excellent tools for exploring conflict, feelings, and problem-solving, the 4Rs approach enriches conflict resolution instruction as well.

The 4Rs includes a parent component, 4Rs Family Connections, which consists of activities children do with their parents at home. Each activity sheet includes a summary of the book used in the unit, a related activity for the parent (or other adult) and the child to do together, and suggestions for further activities related to the book and the theme.


For More Information

Morningside Center works with school leaders to develop a tailored approach to integrating social and emotional learning into the life of the school. We help schools implement a wide variety of programs, from The 4Rs and other classroom-based programs to our Pathways to Respect anti-bullying program, peer mediation and youth leadership programs.

To find out more, please contact Morningside Center's Director of Administration Lillian Castro at lcastro@morningsidecenter.org or call 212-870-3318 x33.