Students and Alumni Join Camelot Leaders during 2019 SEL Exchange to Convey the Importance and Impact of a SEL-centered Education

 In Camelot Blog

Culture is king. When schools and classrooms are genuinely designed to prioritize culture and relationships, all students, irrespective of race, gender, economic status or history of past failures in school can thrive academically. Camelot’s student-led session, during the inaugural 2019 SEL Exchange, hosted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), offered a unique examination of the impact of school design structures and practices that are proven to significantly improve student engagement, conduct, and academic performance.

CASEL, a not-for-profit organization based in Chicago, is a trusted and nationally acclaimed source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social-emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students.

The session was one of the few student-voice sessions at the conference and featured current students and alumni who discussed the powerful impact Camelot’s SEL-centered school design model has had on their decision-making, goal-setting, and academic achievement. The youth panelists talked about their own experiences moving to a relationship-based school and how this way of “doing school” helped them to thrive and move in a new direction. CEO, Andy Morrison, Superintendent of Schools, Joe Carter, Chief Academic Officer, Nilsa Gonzalez, and Deputy Superintendent, Milt Alexander, joined the students and spoke about Camelot’s approach to SEL, starting with our core belief that every child can learn and every child wants to learn. Social-emotional learning, according to Dr. Carter, has two elements, caring and skills development.

“The first part is the care,” Carter said. “We understand what our students are going through in their families, in their neighborhoods, and even in their previous schools. Our framework is built to ensure that, every day, we’re identifying students who come to school with needs. We’re helping them either resolve those issues, support those issues, or mitigate the issues. We have to care before we can teach.”

Carter went on to say that while caring is step one, developing social and emotional skills is step two. He said Camelot teaches students to develop personal and interpersonal skills as they grow; like self-awareness, social awareness, and better decision-making, all the components that CASEL includes in its SEL competencies.

A dynamic group of four current students and three Camelot alumni from Camelot schools in Chicago and Philadelphia joined the leadership team to help bring to life the importance of the work happening inside Camelot schools.

Marquis Crawford, a student at Excel Academy of Roseland in Chicago, told the audience what has made his time at Excel Academy special. “It’s the one-on-one time; I get to connect with my teachers. Everybody in my school is pushing me and driving me to be the best I can be 100 percent of the time, and I didn’t have that before I came to Camelot. At Camelot, it’s like you’re a student, but you’re Marquis Crawford too,” he said. “All students have gone through something difficult, and teachers understand the diversity of students and that we all come from different places.”

Marquis said he was proud to be selected to represent his school, and he felt good about his contribution to the overall presentation. “I faced a fear today, speaking in front of a group of people. I feel good about what I did today. I’m glad I was part of this,” he said.

Victoria Bartholomew, a Camelot alumna and currently an administrative assistant at Camelot Academy East in Philadelphia, said going through this conference experience solidified her desire to continue her education toward becoming a teacher in special education.

“I see the importance from not just the students’ point of view, not just the staff point of view, but to see that my ultimate goal is to be in the classroom with our students, to continue to support our youth the way I was supported when I was a student,” she said. “I was honored to share my story because it’s not easy for me to tell. Some people have had some traumatic experiences in their life, so to be able to tell my story and to let people know Camelot was very influential in my life, to this day – 11 years later, was an honor.”

Bartholomew’s story started when she dropped out of high school after giving birth to a daughter. She attended an orientation at Excel Academy in Philadelphia, where she and her mom saw an opportunity for Victoria to get back on track and finish high school so she could give her daughter all of the opportunities she deserved.

“I want people to understand that just because students are young, it doesn’t mean they haven’t faced the same afflictions or hardships in life that an adult would face. No matter what age you’re at trauma, or just a small struggle, can impact your life so deeply that if you don’t have a positive support system or somebody there to guide you, you’ll just get ‘lost in the sauce.’ Honestly, Camelot didn’t let me get lost in the sauce, because they were my support system at the worst time of my life – at a time when I didn’t know what I could have or what I could do for my future. They gave me that path and said, ‘this is what we’re going to do and this is how we’re going to go about it,’” she recounted.

One member of the audience asked the Camelot team what they’d say to a teacher who was in the classroom just to teach, not to deal with the social-emotional component. Angel Buckley, an alumna, took the microphone and said, “You won’t be able to. Unless you deal with the issues I have going on in my life and the things that I’m struggling with, nothing you have to say, and nothing you have to teach, interests me or is relevant to me.”

As Carter put it, “Our students aren’t passengers on a ship; they’re part of the crew. To deliver SEL effectively, you have to share leadership with your students to create a positive peer culture. They’re helping staff members identify negative behavior, helping to intervene, and mentor other students.”

Related Article:  Excel Academy of Englewood Students Attend Climate Forum at U.N.

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