A local educational agency is teaming up with singer-songwriter Jewel to promote an integrated model of language arts curriculum.
The SELLA curriculum — Social Emotional Learning Language Arts — was developed by the Montgomery County Educational Service Center (MCESC) about two years ago, said Shannon Cox, associate superintendent and incoming superintendent, effective Thursday. Since that time, the ESC has also been negotiating a contract with Jewel to incorporate some of the Nashville singer's products and mindfulness exercises into the curriculum.
"We have a mutual business partner," Cox said of Jewel. "He knew that as an ESC we were responding to some critical deficiencies within districts for resources (for counselors). Students are lacking social emotional competencies."
Currently, about 4,500 students in grades four to six in parts of Ohio and Florida are using the MCESC's integrated language arts curriculum. This fall, the curriculum will be piloted for another 535 students in grades two and three in Montgomery and Muskingum counties in Ohio and at Ohana Institute in Rosemary Beach, Florida.
Cox said the Montgomery County center has a team of 50 employees within its Social Emotional Learning division. Virtual and face-to-face meetings continue with Jewel to finish the curriculum.
"We will integrate some of her work products into the product as well," Cox said. "She's a celebrity advocate, and is writing new songs and new books. We can creatively sit down and put some of her material within the material."
Jewel has long been open about her difficult childhood — having left home at age 15.
“When I moved out at 15, I knew that statistically kids like me should end up repeating that cycle so I set out to beat those odds,” Jewel said. “So, I set out to put these skills to use to help more people. ... I developed a series of exercises to retrain the brain and recreate habits out of happiness."
The SELLA curriculum covers 100% of the national and Ohio writing standards as well as many of the other Language Arts standards. Modules included within the curriculum include topics of relationship skills, self-awareness, future self and responsible decision making. Alongside the academic content are items such as student journals; breathing technique videos; classroom posters on respect and tolerance; and student connect notes.
"By taking control of our breathing, we can oftentimes take control of a situation that seems out of control," Cox said in a video. "It's a really great resource for humans. ... We are embarking this year on doing focus groups with families."
Cox said the curriculum is being developed to apply to students in kindergarten and first grade. That will pilot in schools in spring 2020; with a full release of SELLA to students in grades K-6 in fall 2021.
Graduate students at the University of Dayton in January started researching the use of SELLA curriculum. The research could extend for several years, Cox said. The graduate students are studying the effects of the curriculum on students who are using it versus students not receiving SELLA.
"Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) enhances students’ capacity to integrate skills, attitudes, and behaviors to deal effectively and ethically with daily tasks and challenges," reads the ESC website.
SELLA will ultimately help students be as "successful as they can be," Cox said, and have the ability to overcome anxiety and depression.
"We could spend a whole lot of time placing blame on people ... but when (children) come to school they are missing experiences. Five years worth of human experiences that we used to have," Cox said. "There are a variety of reasons. Society is completely different, tolerance levels are completely different, the world is a different place."
Cox said a group from Dayton will travel to Denver in August to attend a Wellness Your Way Festival and participate in a panel with Jewel. Then in October, Jewel's Wellness Your Way Festival will return to Cincinnati Oct. 11-13.
The Montgomery County Educational Service Center provides a range of educational services to 16 public school districts in Montgomery County. It also provides services to over 90 educational entities in multiple counties across the Dayton region.