A Publication of WTVP

Measuring a child’s success in school can be done in a variety of ways. Can they recognize letters, shapes and numbers when they start kindergarten? Are they reading at third-grade level by the end of third grade? Did they pass algebra by 10th grade?

But learning and academic achievement are more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. There’s another fundamental set of skills that has to be in place for all other learning to occur… and that’s social and emotional skills. When schools implement lessons on social and emotional skills, grades improve, behavioral problems decrease, and students have better relationships with their families and classmates.

Critical to growth and development, social and emotional skills are imperative to improving issues like self-awareness, working cooperatively with others, controlling impulses, making healthy choices, and dealing with changes as a child moves from childhood to adolescence.

The Heart of Illinois United Way addresses identified gaps in social and emotional skills and mental health education within local schools. Through the S3 initiative—Supporting Student Success (formerly called Community in Schools)—our United Way offers local students and their families in-school social services focused on prevention, intervention and case management. In collaboration with several health and human care agencies, S3 partners with educators and administrators to help ensure students’ success in school.

For the past school year, the Heart of Illinois United Way granted more than $157,500 to implement the S3 initiative in 14 early childhood, primary and middle schools in Peoria and Tazewell counties. S3 programs focus on a variety of needs identified by each individual school, including anti-violence education, anti-bullying, academic motivation, individual counseling and self-regulation programs. S3 programs are provided to students and families through classroom settings, small groups and one-on-one counseling sessions.

Since last fall, more than 2,300 students and nearly 100 parents and guardians have participated in S3 programs. Early results include an approximate 50-percent reduction in classroom discipline referrals, a 50-percent reduction in school suspensions and a 33-percent reduction in reported bullying. From a lack of engagement at school to issues at home, from substance abuse to dealing with bullying or pessimism about low grades, numerous factors can lead to suspensions and chronic truancy. By reducing suspensions, the S3 initiative can help keep students in school.

School counselors, teachers and principals participating in the S3 initiative report students at their schools have better behavior in the classroom and at home, improved self-esteem, better respect of others and improved self-regulation, such as paying attention in class. “The accountability provided by the S3 afterschool group definitely sparked success in one of my students,” says Zack Lowe, a counselor at Rolling Acres. “I know he would not have attained such positive notices without the help of the United Way. Our school is thankful for the opportunity to work with kids and provide them with the extra help they need to achieve success.”

The Heart of Illinois United Way is dedicated to ensuring children and youth are prepared socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually… to not only succeed while in school, but also in their future careers. iBi