California Educator

August/September 2021

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Velasco, a school counselor with San Juan since 2006. "It's like SEL on steroids." Ma t h t e a c h e r D av i d Va z q u e z i s a member of the design team at San Juan's Katherine Johnson Middle School, open- ing for the first time this school year. As students arrive on campus, he says, the goal is to immediately start building a sense of belonging, utilizing the Ron Clark Academy House System to create a community together (see box). "e students need something to channel that energy," says Vazquez, a member of San Juan Teachers Association. "It's new, and we're making it something that's going to be spectacular." With many students away from the physical classroom environment for some time, Vazquez says, there will be a need to practice social skills, as well as a focus on building student-teacher relationships. Multi- disciplinary Learning Support Teams are already in place to help identify students with needs and connect them with support and ser- vices. Students at both Katherine Johnson and Sylvan will also have a flex period during which they will get timely supports as well as a choice of enrichment courses, from visual and performing arts to Vazquez's offering on solar and renewable energy. Velasco says Sylvan's flex period will include groups on anxiety, organization and anger management — sessions students said they wanted. "e tone we'd like to set is ' You have a place here,' and we want to build a strong relationship before we get into the curriculum," says Vazquez, a 10-year educator. "You've got to take your time to build that." Creating Supportive Schools Tips from Marti Velasco and David Vazquez as students return to school: 1 Be deliberate. Actively work to support students' social emotional needs. 2 It's all about relationships. Focus on building relationships with students. 3 Take care of yourself. You need to be well to help your students. 4 Every student is different. Recognize that some will need more support than others. 5 If you see something, say something. Identify students who may need help and connect them with support systems. 6 It will take time. Be patient. Building relationships and supporting students' social emotional needs are necessary for learning to occur. The Ron Clark Academy House System The system randomly assigns incoming students and all staff to four Houses — learning and leadership communities — where students remain all their years at the school. Houses are meant to foster deeper connection among students across grade levels and interests as Houses hold healthy competitions with each other in academic and other arenas. Read more at "The tone is 'You have a place here.' We want to build a strong relationship before we get into the curriculum." —DAVID VAZQUEZ, San Juan Teachers Association e prep for starting the year is huge, Vazquez says, with staff spending a full week together to prepare the experience they want to give students when they step on campus. Velasco is continuing to do professional development with educators, on topics as serious and important as recognizing signs of suicidality in students. "We're going to give teachers tools, so they have the support they need," Velasco says. "Everyone is walking through the door with different needs." 34 Feature

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