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SEL vs. Community: A Freshman’s Perspective

By: Sofia Turek

I found that the SEL lessons in 7th grade were statements, such as "Don’t be racist," versus what I’ve heard in 8th and 9th grade, which is, "Speak Up" and "Respect for diversity and equity is achieved through everyone’s actions." What I was missing in the younger grades was instruction that inspired action and a deeper responsibility by everyone to be part of a community.


At first, you may think that "community" is better than SEL: In community, slideshows that are written BY students FOR students are effective because a student is most familiar with their peers. Students teach controversial topics by having a first-hand account, while most teachers seem to teach these topics as if they just want to tell students to not add to the issue, even though they didn’t. For example, I remember that my advisor in 7th grade showed a slideshow that told the school to not be racist. I am against racism and all forms of discrimination, and in my experience, it’s the same for the other kids that I know; they were almost TEENS and stopping with just this message isn’t enough. Statements don’t do enough. All students in all grades should be taught to take action and greater steps.


In 8th grade SEL, it was different-we learned how to be a SUPER ALLY: 
"Not be racist" is not enough. Speak up against racism!  
"Not be homophobic" is not enough. Raise your voice for LGBTQ rights. 
"Not being ageist" is not enough. SPEAK UP.


On the other hand, some kids from Conard expressed that last year’s community lessons in high school "(mostly) were about different cultures" and "getting to know your classmates." This is important as we need to listen to each other, learn about each other, and be fully open to other people’s experiences in order to be a stronger community. At first, I thought that this year’s community was focused on building a community by looking at windows into another person’s experience, and it sounded much more useful to me than what SEL was.


In both SEL and community so far, there has sadly been no mention of people with disabilities.  Speaking from my own experience, I have grown up experiencing kids younger and older than me in West Hartford saying loudly, "What’s that?" when I pass by in my wheelchair. I am a person, not a "that". Most people assume that just because I use a wheelchair and cannot talk, that I cannot understand them, let alone go to classes at Conard with my peers. SEL and community lessons should be more inclusive in their teaching and incorporate actions and understanding that bring our community together in a common appreciation and togetherness.


Though some people think that community is better than SEL, some people think that SEL is the same thing as community. The last community lesson was talking about Latinos, and the main message was learning about them and their stereotypes. It was mainly targeting people that heard about stereotypes to not believe those stereotypes (hearing true voices from a video), but it also got people who didn’t know any stereotypes of Latinos to be aware of them.

That message is "change your implicit bias towards Latinos". That lesson never showed how to speak up against stereotypes of Latinos other than a statement like "Latinas aren’t always oversexualized.", which barely helps. Just showing your knowledge of that stereotype allows for the person near you to argue that the media never represents minorities poorly.


In summary, community needs to change. We need to find a way to help in our presentations, and we need to mention a more diverse array of people.

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