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The "Truth" about Social Emotional Learning Curriculum

It’s been four months since school started. Everything is pretty much the same, except for one new thing: Social Emotional Learning Lessons. Every month or so, we gather around to listen to their teachers give “the [emotional] talk.” There’s no doubt that most high school students, if not all, see this as a complete waste of time. Some people see this as busy work, or just teachers trying to fill up teaching time. Some have alluded to it being a political move, others suggesting that it cost Kennedy High School’s much-needed ACs with its price tag in the hundreds of thousands. But what is the truth? Where did this curriculum come from? And is it going to stay?

Illustrated By Lily Jiang

By Catherine Qin, Daniel Gong, and Faith Qiao

 

Lions Club:


To uncover this entire debacle, we have to start at Lions Club, the parent company of Lions Quest, the organization that developed the SEL curriculum used in our high schools. Founded in 1917 by Chicago Salesman Melvin Jones, Lions Club aims to help others and better communities around the world, no seriously that’s their mission. And that mission has now grown into the world’s largest association of service clubs, with 46,000 clubs and 1.4 million members. As a non-profit organization, Lions Club gets its funding from corporate sponsors, individuals, Lions Clubs (which are high school clubs extending from Lions Club), and local Lions (members) and spends it on different projects.


As a service club, their projects include areas in helping the youth, improving the lives of the visually impaired, hunger, childhood cancers, and many more. With many services focusing on improving and helping the lives of people in need, Lions Club has partnerships with drug, alcohol, and tobacco prevention agencies such as the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC), Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA), and US State Department of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL).

Great job Melvin!


In 1975, then aspirational teenager Rick Little founded another organization called the International Youth Organization, and you guessed it, they would go on to become Lions Quest after being acquired by Lions Club! Since 1975, Lions Quest has been “on a ‘quest’ to help other young people develop the skills and strength of character needed to succeed as adults.


Lions Quest’s curriculum has been recognized by and partnered with many educational programs such as the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP) and the California Department of Education. Experts and organizations worldwide have “recognized Lions Quest programs for their effectiveness in the areas of social and emotional learning, drug and alcohol prevention, and service learning.”


The curriculums for elementary, middle, and high school follow their evidence-based SEL curriculum that follows Cassel's Five Core Competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. The overall goal and gist of each curriculum for each grade level are the same. The programs and lessons use a four-phase instructional design to help students actively participate and become curious.

This might sound all great, but looking closely at each lesson, the information is pretty basic. For example, one of the lessons for the 12th grade teaches them about self-competence and learning how to control their emotions.


these are very important skill sets, but looking at the overall picture, how many 12th graders out there have never encountered a situation where they needed to decide on what to do with their emotions? The whole point of these lessons is to teach students how to deal with situations like this since it takes students years to figure this out, but they fail in both areas. At this point in the students’ lives, it’s a little too late to begin giving them lessons about these topics. Students already had to learn how to navigate through similar situations over the years.

Lions Quest might be new to the Fremont district, but many districts across the nation and countries around the world, from Southeast Asia to Africa, have been using Lions Quest programs for more than 25 years. Students too are taught to prepare them with the necessary skills to be successful in life.

The idea of this curriculum isn’t bad, it’s just the age group it’s directing to is not helping make their cause. Reading through each lesson plan, a lot of the information and activities sound like they’re directed toward 5-year-olds.

Studies are backing up Lions Quest, but if you look closely, the statistics are not in their favor. A 2019 Harvard Grad School Study found that 36% of students were very enthusiastic about the lesson, 40% were a little excited, and 20% were somewhat with the curriculum. However, as with most self-reported scores, the result may not be exactly representative of true sentiments. Was it because the curriculum was genuinely helpful, or was it because teachers were not teaching the lesson and allowing students to have free time? At Mission San Jose High, most teachers could care less and skip the lessons entirely.

Fremont:


With all this in mind, what exactly prompted FUSD to adapt this curriculum? In society, strong social and emotional skills correlate with becoming more successful. Starting from the spring of 2021 to February 2022, the adoption team of 24, consisting of teachers, staff, counselors, and psychiatrists, began looking into different SEL curriculums. Their rubric is quite straightforward; the program must be CASEL-approved SEL programs and are “easy to prepare, [not] complicated to prepare [or] to present.” On March 9, 2022, FUSD officially began looking for SEL curriculums and came up with a couple of options: Second Step (K-8), Sanford Harmony (K-6), Positive Action (K-12), Lions Quest (K-12), Wyman Teen (6-12), and Base Education (6-12). The grade levels were split into three groups: K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. In the end, the district ended up choosing Second Step for grades K-8, and Lions Quest for 9-12. Each lesson has a theme that gradually gets more complex as the age group ages. The curriculum includes 5 units, 16-18 lessons total, with 4 levels (grades 9-12). Each lesson is designed to be flexibly taught from 1 semester to 4 years.

Using Lions Quest comes with a cost, but not as much as you’d think. The pricing model is unique because the money spent is for and based on the teachers rather than the school or district. Each teacher license costs $99 per teacher. Depending on how many teachers are teaching, the price goes up or down. A “building or district may receive up to a 25% – 50% discount on individual teacher licenses. At full price, the program averages less than $40 per classroom, per year.” The district is funded by the Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant (ELOG), giving them $22 million (given by the state), to fund after-school and summer school enrichment programs for grades kindergarten to sixth grade (TK/K-6).

This means that money that would have gone into other programs is not being directly rerouted to adopt this new curriculum. There is no information on whether SEL is a permanent addition to the 9-12 curriculum.




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