Lower School

Social and Emotional Learning

A growing body of research suggests that children who develop strong social skills—the ability to make friends, resolve disputes, work with others, and adapt to changing situations—are far more likely to thrive in school, in their chosen careers, and throughout their lives.
The understanding that social skills help a person navigate through life has always made intuitive sense. Recently, however, a more direct connection between social and emotional learning (SEL) and academic performance has been brought into prominence. Rather than taking time away from traditional academic subjects, SEL actually gives students the tools to engage with their school work and strive for academic success.

Each of the three academic divisions at Gill emphasizes age-appropriate social and emotional learning, and research shows that SEL works best when students begin at an early age. For our youngest learners, we introduce SEL through an emphasis on character awareness, character development, cooperation, and friendship.
According to Lower & Middle School Director Kyle Armstrong, “The Lower School highlights one positive character trait each month. A word, such as ‘kindness,’ ‘stewardship’ or ‘gratitude’ is posted on the bulletin boards, and teachers help the students make that idea concrete—whether through a story they are reading in class, a teachable moment on the playground, or a discussion about something happening outside of school.”

By focusing on a specific character trait each month, teachers help studen s identify what ‘generosity’, ‘thoughtfulness,’ or ‘forgiveness’ looks like in a day-to-day context. Moreover, the practice helps students become more aware of ways in which they can make a positive contribution to the community.
Mr. Armstrong explains that Lower School Town Hall Meetings give students and teachers a chance to talk about character and reinforce the school’s core values. In addition, Lower School teachers incorporate aspects of the Caring School Community framework, designed by the Collaborative Classroom, a nonprofit organization that supports the academic, social, and emotional development of students.

“Resources like the Caring School Community are a great complement to our program,” offers Armstrong. “But SEL is simply part of of our lives at GSB. It begins with welcoming and supportive teachers, with small classes, with a community that is inclusive and kind. When you place children in that kind of environment, they naturally develop positive habits and skills.”
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.