OXFORD • Although Ruby Payne has spoken in north Mississippi before and social emotional learning is not a new concept, the poverty expert told 300 area educators in Oxford on Friday how the social and emotional wellness of students correlates to school safety.

Payne said with the increase in school shootings in recent years, schools across the country have put a greater emphasis on physical security, but there are other layers of safety that need to be addressed.

Just in Tupelo and Lee County area, new school resource officers, upgraded security cameras and electric door lock systems on campuses have been added or improved in local schools in the past couple of years.

“If you want true safety in your building, you have to deal with the emotional realities of safety,” Payne said.

“A lot of schools are implementing SEL programs but they are not giving staff the knowledge about what is happening with students emotionally, so what I am trying to give staff members is a vocabulary to understand the development of emotional responses and give them tools for it,” Payne said.

Social Emotional Learning programs are a product of the Every Student Succeeds Act signed in 2015, which aims to educate the whole child, not just focus on academic achievements.

Social Emotional Learning programs have gained traction locally. In Lee County School District, an SEL writing program was implemented for kindergarten students earlier this year.

North Pontotoc Upper Elementary School teacher Hillery Wise has been an educator for 18 years and while she has a regular class of between 25 to 30 students, she makes it a priority to establish a personal connection with each student.

Wise takes a little time each day to meet her students at the door of the classroom and speak to each one. She also listens to the students as they talk to each other, to pick up issues they may be dealing with.

“If you don’t build relationships with students and know where they are coming from, then you are never going to reach them academically,” Wise said.

Morgan Abraham is principal of Sudduth Elementary School in Starkville and said these strategies will be especially beneficial when it comes to younger students because the social and emotional issues of students often begin at a young age.

“Especially in the younger grades and as they get older, you can’t easily teach a child that is having emotional issues, so you want to help them manage their emotions and behavior so they can be better acclimated to deal with not only school issues but also life challenges,” Abraham said.

Payne has nearly 50 years of education expertise and experience, and is an expert on how poverty impacts education. Her new book, “Emotional Poverty,” published in 2018, looks further into poverty and provides tips to educators on how to reduce anger, anxiety and violence in the classroom, while understanding the backgrounds and needs of students.

Payne has written books on financial poverty and survival and violence and said current educational research has indicated a need for people to not only recognize the social and emotional challenges of students, but also define and understand from where such issues stem.

“We want to create layers of safety in the building, the first layer is physical but the second layer is the emotional realities students are dealing with,” Payne said.

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