Truman Students Build SEL Skills

Truman Students Build SEL Skills through Positive Relationships
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Did you know that we are all using aspects of social-emotional learning (SEL) every day? SEL is the process of developing self-awareness, self-management, relationship building, responsible decision making and other interpersonal skills that are vital for success.

People with strong SEL skills are better equipped for challenges and benefit academically, professionally and socially. Bristol Township School District has been focusing on improving students’ SEL skills by creating strong relationships with students.

Truman High School’s School Social Worker Julie Laquer primarily works with students with the greatest socio-emotional needs. She provides counseling to all special education students with “Social Work or Counseling as a Related Service'' in their IEP and others as needed, and collaborates on behavior/attendance teams, liaises between Truman, families and community providers and conducts risk/threat assessments along with Truman School Counselors.

Developmental research has proven that having one or more caring adults in a child’s life increases their likelihood of success. According to research by The Search Institute, an organization dedicated to youth development, when children have strong relationships with caring adults, they are more likely to be engaged in school and more motivated to succeed academically.

“We wanted to give students access to as many caring adults throughout their school day as possible,” said Principal Jon Craig. “Every student has a different adult they really connect to whether that is their counselor, the SEL coordinator, a sheriff from the Pathways program, or someone else.”

To build these strong relationships, Truman High School started five new initiatives or partnerships this year that give students the opportunity to form many strong connections.

SEL Coordinator Cade Feeney

This school year, Truman brought on Cade Feeney to fill a new role as SEL Coordinator. When teachers feel there is something off or not quite right with students, they refer them to see Feeney to discuss reasons why students may be skipping a certain class or struggling with a grade. Feeney also works to take a proactive approach to see where students are at and what needs they have even if it appears nothing is wrong.

Feeney is readily accessible to students daily and can handle conflicts that need to be addressed immediately by meeting with students one-on-one or in small group sessions. Before starting this role, Feeney worked with a community organization that regularly visited district schools, so many Truman students have known him since elementary school.

“Students know they can open up to me and that they will be heard, feel seen, and know that they matter,” said Feeney. “There is no other place I would rather be for this job. Truman students are the most resilient, kind, and giving, but also the most unaccepted. Whether it be socio-economic reasons or other challenges, they know they have to work above and beyond students in other districts and with far less resources and supports.

The Peace Center

Another resource to help with conflict resolution is working with The Peace Center and their Director of Community Programming Gayle Evans. As an alternative to disciplining students with in-school suspensions that further impede learning, these students are now meeting 3-4 hours a week with The Peace Center, an organization that promotes peaceful resolution of conflict. Evans meets with groups of students to help with conflict resolution, character building, decision-making, and other key SEL skills.

Pathfinder Program

To build positive relationships with parents and students, two Bucks County Sheriffs visit Truman twice a week to mentor students. This is made possible through the Pathfinder Program, which aims to connect deputies with the public. The sheriffs use empathy, compassion and active listening as they mentor and visit with students.


Truman High School has been training for the School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (SWPBIS) program this year. SWPBIS is a universal, school-wide program that aims to establish a social culture where students expect and support appropriate behavior from one another. In the fall of 2022, Truman will begin rolling out the matrix and plan.

Professional Learning Partnerships

Through the district’s partnership with Professional Learning Partnerships, Chief Learning Officer and Founder Julia Skolnik led a Think Tank for ninth grade high school teachers and administrators.

“Ninth grade is already a difficult transition for students and even more difficult when dealing with a pandemic, so the goal of the Think Tank was to identify ways to bring ninth grade students together and build connections,” said Craig.

One idea that came to light in the Think Tank was the Freshman Fun Night. More than 140 freshmen attended the event to build relationships with their teachers and classmates through coding, games, team-building activities and having fun in the photo booth.

In addition to the ninth grade transition, assistant principals have been working as a team at the elementary, middle and high school levels to improve communication, collaboration, and consistency for all students transitioning between schools to better meet the needs of students, parents, and staff members.

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