Healing Illinois Grantees Support Young People’s Social, Emotional Learning

Two Healing Illinois grantees are addressing the social emotional development of young people following the emotional fallout from George Floyd's death and the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, they want to teach school administrators, teachers and parents to empower young people to do restorative healing activities.

The Mahomet-Seymour School District in downstate Illinois has teamed up with Dr. Kevin Tan from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's School of Social Work to enhance its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program. With a grant of $45,000, the school district will hold several initiatives to promote the capacity of its staff to do restorative healing activities as well.

The district has been using the University's social work experts to train their staff and students, to reach the community, and to measure the effectiveness of its DEI program.? "We're a predominantly white, Christian, conservative community," said Dr. Nicole Rummel, director of instruction with the Mahomet-Seymour district. She said staff have asked for the tools and skills to be able to support minority and majority students.

Dr. Tan is grateful for the resources to address the social and emotional learning needs of young people and adults, especially given current events. The assistant professor also secured a Healing Illinois grant with his colleague from University of Illinois Extension, Dr. Durriyyah Kemp. They are using their $40,000-grant to facilitate conversations through focus groups and parenting seminars. They are also engaging an experienced social justice trainer to introduce and work with a group of social work students to plan and host community-based restorative circles focused on healing.

Mahomet-Seymour is building on DEI work that it has been doing for more than four years. This previous work has included training staff on adverse childhood experiences, responsive classrooms and restorative practices.

Restorative Justice Introduction YouTube

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit their community. After that, the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer was televised. It sparked a wave of protests worldwide. Incidents like that are likely to impact the social and emotional awareness of all people, especially Black, indigenous, and (other) people of color (BIPOC).

"What we've heard from students and families is, it's hard," said Dr. Nicole Rummel. "It's hard to be a member of the BIPOC community in a predominantly white community with predominantly white teachers. And so, students and parents have shared some stories from their experiences that have not been positive. We are working with our staff with the support of the social work school on recognizing, acknowledging and addressing the current and historical social injustices in our society. "

The Mahomet and Seymour communities and many others across Illinois are feeling the effects of the national reckoning on social injustices. That's the impression Dr. Durriyyah Kemp got recently.?

She and Dr. Tan, with their social work students, have begun focus groups for Illinois educators, parents, and young people. They are gaining insight into the impact of recent events on young people's social and emotional development. The focus groups are race-specific, organized in majority white, BIPOC, and racially mixed groups.

"We have noticed a sense of fatigue and tiredness, especially with BIPOC individuals," said Dr. Kemp.

Yet, participants have appreciated the opportunity to come together, said Dr. Kemp. "They appreciate having the opportunity to talk with other people who have a shared experience."

The Power of Healing Circles YouTube Video

Dr. Rummel agreed on the importance of having dialogue around DEI. "It's not that our teachers don't want to support kids," she said. "It's that they don't have the tools and skills. So, providing some bystander training for teachers so they know how to respond when they hear racial slurs or derogatory terms has been probably the most positive thing that has come out of this."

Drs. Tan, Kemp, and Rummel will utilize a transformative social and emotional learning process to support the skill building of young people's senses of identity, agency, engagement, and belonging.?

"I think it's really important for us," Dr. Kevin Tan said, "[that] this whole dialogue about racial healing is not just at an adult's level. It's really about empowering the next generation of young people. I think that's really our role as educators."

Eventually, young people and social work students will be able to facilitate healing within the community. In that way, they will "build their own competencies," said Dr. Tan. The process, he hopes, will instill "necessary social and emotional learning skills that they will actually use as they move forward from here."


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