[EDITORIAL] Den is better off as a time for students to hibernate


Photo by Emily Ziajor

Students work through scenarios during ALICE training in March 2023.

Den. A class where students just want to unwind. The soft music playing, and the smell of fresh air from the window that is cracked open is oh so comforting. The comfy chairs and books in the corner make students feel at home.

It does not get any more relaxing than this. Students want to forget about the world around them for 30 minutes; they do not want to be forced to participate in an activity that they do not care about.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is the idea that educators should teach students the attitudes and skills necessary to manage emotions and make good decisions. SEL has been implemented across the United States in schools from the elementary to high school level. It has also become a multi-million-dollar industry that some claim is being exploited by professional developers and large corporations who are investing in programs across the country.

Proponents argue that SEL is important to implement in schools, as depression and anxiety rates in teens have skyrocketed since the pandemic. SEL can provide students with additional support, and allow for hard conversations to be had in school: this is all true. However, such is only true if the SEL program is properly implemented.

The issue with SEL is that it promotes unlicensed therapy. It gives teachers the power to attend to students’ social/emotional needs with very minimal training. The other problem with SEL is that it tries to put a band-aid over the real problem.

This is like responding to the catastrophic flooding caused by climate change, with calls for more sandbags,” reporter Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post wrote in 2021.

The real problem is the concept of overall well-being in society. Talking about social justice, safety (not just safety, but whether people actually feel safe), and peace in the nation – along with the mental health crisis that has arisen since the start of the pandemic in 2020 – would be far more important conversations to implement in the classroom than SEL.

However, well-implemented programs can really help students.

“Well-implemented SEL programs positively affect students’ success in school. Studies show that social-emotional skills—such as problem-solving, self-regulation, impulse control, and empathy—help improve academics, reduce negative social behaviors like bullying, and create positive classroom climates,” the Committee for Children, a non-profit organization advocating for the implementation of SEL in schools, said.

American history and government teacher John Chisholm poses with his Den class outside of his classroom. (Photo by John Chisholm)

“Den has proven to be a great opportunity for students to grow their school spirit and have fun. It provides a much-needed break from traditional academics, and gives students time to get additional help in their core classes as needed. I really appreciate the flexibility it has given the teachers to assign students to Academic Support, as well as the additional time for counselors to work with students,” AVID teacher and Site Team Coordinator Nick Kempski said.

In that case, changing the Student Support Initiative (SSI) to lessons that are more crucial, such as increasing the focus on emergency response training and education on mental health, would be more beneficial to students, rather than having them share their thoughts on unnecessary topics in front of 20 other kids. Another option is turning the SSI program into a dedicated time for students to wind down or to finish homework and tests, which would create a much more student-friendly class.

At the end of the day, allowing students to rest and complete their classwork is a far more beneficial use of time than talking about setting meaningless goals or time management.