children learning

To help combat the social drawbacks of isolation during the COVID-19 shutdowns, the Lower Yukon School District implemented a new program for the school year of 2021-2022. Suite 360 addresses emotional and social education in a new, age-appropriate, interactive online program.  

This Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL program, is the first the school district has ever adopted. SEL programs aim to educate students, staff and parents about the social and emotional challenges children face in the classroom. The program’s parent company, Evolution Labs, acknowledges that these issues can impair a student’s academic success. It aims to give students and their educators ongoing access to an education that takes these issues seriously.  Director of Learning Recovery of the Lower Yukon school district, Monica Simmons explained why LYSD made the decision to introduce this new kind of education to their students

“To help build relationships, the social awareness of it, and helping (them) to be responsible in making decisions … how to manage themselves. This program addresses all that,” Simmons said.

LYSD’s adoption of Suite 360 began over the summer and was first used during summer school.

 “We just had an in-service training on it in August. We brought all of our teachers into Anchorage for a three-day training, and then we are going to have a follow up in about a week or two after they’ve had a chance to use the program,” Simmons said.

The district uses the SEL program on a case-by-case basis. Lower Yukon School District students will encounter Suite 360 in instances where a fight breaks out, when they are experiencing emotional turmoil or during a bullying incident. In such situations, educators can pull the student out of class to engage with Suite 360 modules that address their situation. For example, when two students are in conflict with one another, an educator can assign a Suite 360 sections on relationship skills, conflict resolution or effective communication. One of the program’s advantages is that it allows the student and educator to address the issue immediately, Simmons said.

 “There’s a range of skills they can learn on this program based on what the problem is and what is going on in the classroom,” Simmons said.

Suite 360 teaches through methods, such as surveys or interactive scenarios, that allow the student to explore how they would react to a situation. When appropriate, principals will also use the program during disciplinary measures.

The LYSD adopted the program as a Covid Recovery of sorts, Simmons said. Suite 360 helps students catch up on the social and emotional education they missed when they had to study at home during the lockdowns of 2020.

“Kids are a little unsettled. They haven’t been in school for a while. They are not getting the relationship skills that they would normally get in school and the social interactions that they would have normally gotten in school the year and a half that they were out so we thought now would be a good time to incorporate this program,” Simmons said.

Beyond catching up on social education, Suite 360 allows students of the Lower Yukon to address other issues such as anger management.

Simmons says children in summer school responded well to the program. They found it engaging and wanted to participate. However, she says it is too early to cite long term formative data on how the program has changed students’attitudes and mentalities.

“I’m hoping that it will help build relationships within the classroom, make the school culture and climate more positive, give students a different way to handle anger, how to communicate effectively. And ultimately, I hope it offsets some of the suicide rates here,” Simmons said.

The Lower Yukon school district hopes to see some long-term impacts starting this school year.

Image at top: Students of the Lower Yukon School District participate in online learning. Photo courtesy of Larry Botchen.