Social-Emotional Support for Academic Success

Michael Stephan - Heart of Illinois United Way

Every child has the right to attend school and obtain a degree. By its very definition, that's what eligibility means. As parents, we know there are many conditions that must be met as our child moves through the education system. When a child gets ready to enter kindergarten, there are registration forms and immunizations. When a junior high student graduates from eighth grade, there are tests and school supplies needed to enter high school.

But what's more important than being eligible to start school or move on to the next grade level is whether or not the child is ready. In education, there is a major difference between being eligible and being ready. The key factor to students’ academic success and school readiness often comes down to their social-emotional well-being.

For many young students, academic success starts when they receive age-appropriate social-emotional support at school. In 2006, the Heart of Illinois United Way formed a partnership with Peoria Public Schools to help students and families with counseling, violence and anger management, and behavioral interventions. Today, our S3 (Supporting Student Success) initiative has grown to include more than 20 public schools at five school districts in central Illinois. S3 offers students, teachers and families social-emotional support through education, intervention, prevention and counseling (individual and small group).

While a significant portion of a child's life is spent in school, it's often factors outside of the school day—such as parents who are fighting, unsafe neighborhoods and cyberbullying—that are having a negative impact. Students bring mental health, violence and substance abuse issues with them to school, interfering with learning and the classroom environment.

Districts and schools that apply for S3 grants are selected based upon demographics, including poverty rates, truancy, mobility and academic proficiency. Collaborating with each school to meet their identified social-emotional needs, the goal of S3 is to equip teachers, administrators and families with the behavioral tools needed to ensure a student’s success in school. Annually, S3 grants approximately $186,000 to schools who work with multiple health and human care agencies, including several United Way partners. In the 2015-2016 school year, these grants positively impacted more than 2,000 teachers and more than 4,300 students.

Serving pre-K through high school, S3 continues to address key social-emotional factors affecting students' performance. Schools who participate in S3 have experienced a significant reduction in school-wide discipline referrals and suspensions, less aggression between middle-school students, and fewer students needing one-on-one behavior assistance. Many schools have also seen increased participation by parents in their child's education and counseling, increased math and reading scores, and better school attendance.

At the United Way's annual meeting in August, three schools that received S3 grants in 2015-2016 were recognized for positive outcomes. Creve Coeur School District 76 was able to decrease their number of discipline referrals by nine percent last year. In addition, their summer program offering arts and activities continues to have increased attendance while providing a safe, fun and educational environment for students. Peoria Public Schools' Lindbergh Middle School had a nearly 90-percent decrease in the number of discipline referrals last year and with better social-emotional support, students increased their math and reading scores by upwards of four percent. Finally, Trewyn K-8 School reduced discipline referrals by 29 percent and provided students with fun, therapeutic ways to learn how to cope with their own feelings and better understand others.

We all want children to succeed in school. Today, we know that is more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. A solid education includes being able to recognize and manage feelings, building positive relationships, learning how to get along with others, and making healthy, safe choices. The Heart of Illinois United Way's S3 initiative is a vital step in supporting overall academic success in central Illinois. iBi

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