Poliomyelitis is a disease that held a reign of terror over this nation for many years. An American president was crippled by polio. The original March of Dimes was organized to combat this terrible affliction and to help care for its victims. And if you were born before 1955, you likely recall the fear created by the presence of this horrible disease that crippled thousands of once active, healthy children. Or perhaps you remember the images of children in iron lungs.
Today, our country faces a different kind of health crisis … a different kind of epidemic.
It is a social and emotional health crisis. Children are growing up without acquiring the skills they need to develop and maintain healthy relationships, to make wise decisions and choices, and to cope effectively with the complex challenges we all face in today’s world.
As a result, America no longer has the best educational system in the world. Failing schools are a challenge everywhere. Schools and classrooms are in chaos. Teachers are frustrated. Teacher turnover is at record high levels. Far too many of our children fail to finish high school. Of those who do graduate, many of them are ill-prepared for college or for the workplace. And recent studies show that most of our dropouts are passing all their classes when they leave. And academic success forces some of our brightest children into the isolation of non-acceptance, while bullying remains commonplace.
Our economic vitality as a country is predicated upon an educated and well-prepared workforce. And yet, in America today, the income gap between rich poor continues to grow, as it has for the last four decades. That is an education problem, but it is not about traditional academics. We have great teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of their students. With the advances in technology, we have great academic tools. Yet, in far too many schools, teachers are not equipped to deal with today’s social and emotional health epidemic.
In response to the epidemic of the 50’s, American healthcare united in an unparalleled effort with America’s schools to eradicate polio. Using the miraculous vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, millions of school children and even their parents were immunized successfully. Polio was defeated! Oh, it still exists in very small numbers around the world, but today it is completely preventable.
Today’s epidemic is preventable as well, but we need another united response. Social and emotional learning must be recognized as a necessity, not an option. Some school systems have begun to realize that their students are lacking several of the basic social and emotional skills that they need to be successful in life as well as in the classroom. And we know enough now to know that when we can and do address the “whole” child – addressing social and emotional needs and not just academic needs – the results can be astounding. Studies have shown that attendance increases, problem behaviors are greatly reduced, and not at all surprisingly, classroom performance improves as well.
Our culture has changed. Communities have changed. Family support structures have changed.
Educators need new tools that will enable them to identify the social and emotional needs of their students and to then to address those needs. The tools should be comprehensive and thoroughly researched and vetted. And they need to know that the tools are working. It is a “vaccine” that our children need. Let’s do whatever it takes to get it to them.
My name is Dennis Henegar, and it has been my privilege to work with Jay Burcham for more than 20 years. And I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who has the expertise and the passion that he has for helping children succeed in life. His research into behavior and how it is directly related to one’s experiential knowledge base (maturity level – adult or child) is unprecedented. More importantly, Jay’s research has scientifically proven that the social and emotional skills that make up our experiential knowledge base can be identified, measured, and taught. And Jay and his company – The Life Excelerator - have diligently poured that knowledge into the creation of Leaps – a system of online tools and resources that enables educators to identify the social and emotional skill deficits of their students and then provides the means to address those deficits. Using Leaps has been proven to reduce problem behaviors, increase attendance, and improve classroom performance.