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Chesak Elementary School's kindness challenge complements social-emotional initiatives

Kim Neilson, a social worker in Huntley School District 158, said a student’s future success is not only determined by academic performance.

Students also must develop self-awareness and coping skills, which the district is trying to strengthen through social and emotional learning initiatives.

“You may be good in math, but if you can’t communicate with others, it will be very difficult to sustain success,” Neilson said.

To complement the steps the district has taken to implement social and emotional learning practices in schools, Chesak Elementary School introduced the Great Kindness Challenge, a nationwide effort to create a culture of compassion among students, which will wrap up Friday.

The challenge was supposed to take place last week, but because schools were closed for three days because of a historic cold snap, the event was rescheduled.

Students learned about a number of ways they can promote positive treatment to others, such as the Buddy Bench, which Chesak uses to help students find people to play with during recess. Classroom exercises have included the M&M belief, which uses M&M’s candies to demonstrate that regardless of what something looks like on the outside, it’s what’s inside that’s most important.

Neilson said these lessons not only are taught in the classroom but also are reinforced throughout the week.

“It’s about the culture of the entire school, which I feel will be the culture of the entire district,” Neilson said.

First-grade teacher Christine Laird said the kindness challenge has had an effect on her students both inside and outside the classroom.

“I can definitely tell a difference in the way [students] are talking to each other,” Laird said.

Neilson also is part of a leadership team to perfect a social-emotional learning program districtwide.

At the end of the school year, Neilson said, social-emotional leaders will be presenting a streamlined plan for every district school that could be incorporated next academic year.

In an email to Neilson, District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe commended her work providing social-emotional learning support in the district.

“We are in the midst of a critical change in education where we give adequate attention to the social-emotional learning needs of our students as an essential part of their education,” Rowe wrote.

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