MCPS approves SSL hours for participation in SEL block

By Vishnu Dandi

The Montgomery County Board of Education approved a proposal to grant Student Service Learning hours for participation in Social and Emotional Learning lessons — a new mindfulness program— starting December 8. 

In order to receive SSL hours, students must complete a Google Form at the end of each lesson to indicate they attended. 

MCPS introduced SEL at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Lessons occur every Tuesday afternoon from 2:45-3:15 p.m. within small groups.  

“MCPS has temporarily amended its student service guidelines to include select virtual and remote opportunities, given that MCPS may not host in-person SSL opportunities while schools remain virtual” said MCPS Director of Communications Gboyinde Onijala.

Though SEL lessons aim to teach students about mental health,, student participation has remained low because the Whitman administration has not made sessions mandatory, said English teacher Matthew Bruneel.

Approximately seven of Bruneel’s 23 assigned SEL students show up to the weekly meetings, he said. 

“It’s a good move to offer SSL hours for attendance of SEL,” Bruneel said. “The threat that teachers will mark students ‘absent’ did not make a difference in students showing up.”

Assistant Principal Joseph Msefya hopes the change will increase student participation in the program. 

“Not all students attend, and I highly encourage students to attend,” Msefya said. “This opportunity to learn how to manage stressors and anxieties and explore mindfulness strategies is very important.” 

Some students have expressed enthusiasm over the Board’s course modifications, noting that it allows them to learn vital emotional skills while fulfilling a graduation requirement.

“We discussed information about how to take care of our mental health and how to maintain friendships during the pandemic,” sophomore David Akinyoyenu said. “This change will help more people want to come because students are always looking for a way to get SSL hours.” 

With a virtual classroom for this semester, teachers believe that the SEL program is integral to creating a unified Whitman community and addressing students’ needs.    

“It’s nearly impossible to serve the community in the traditional way during this pandemic,” Bruneel said. “Learning how to better care for our own social and emotional needs will help alleviate some of the burdens on our beleaguered community and country.”