JFS Teams with Silver Academy to Provide Socio-Emotional Learning

By Kim Kupfer

At one time, it was called “soft skills;” at other times, it was called “people skills.” But today, we refer to the skills children and adults learn to be successful at school, life, and work as social-emotional skills - and these skills can be taught!

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

As children return to in-person school, priority is placed on socio-emotional learning and support. Navigating the emotional health of our children is a priority for schools across America. The Silver Academy is no different. Jewish Family Service has partnered with the Silver Academy to provide this meaningful and much needed service.  During the current Covid crisis, it is critical for students and staff to remain calm, connected, and self-regulated so that learning can take place.

In Social and Emotional Learning During COVID-19 and Beyond, Dr. Katie Rosanbalm writes that “We have the opportunity to rebuild school communities to be stronger socially, emotionally, and academically if we intentionally and systematically target universal SEL within the context of structured, consistent, and caring staff-student relationships. If we invest in SEL 
for all students, research tells us that the benefits will far outweigh the costs.”


Forming the Partnership 

After meeting to discuss ways that JFS and The Silver Academy can work more closely together, Samara Sofian, Head of School of the Silver Academy, and Steve Schauder, JFS Executive Director, felt that more needs to be done to support the emotional and social health of Silver Academy students, families, and faculty.

While The Silver Academy had previously had some consultation with the Capitol Area Intermediate Unit, those consultations had waned and Sofian was hoping to provide greater support for her school. Schauder suggested that The Silver Academy might benefit from having our renowned child therapist, Mary Tarbell, available for weekly consultation. After meeting with Mary, Samara readily agreed to have Mary consult with the school.


The Magic of Mary Tarbell  


Mary Tarbell is a local legend due to her play therapy expertise with children. At JFS, some families will wait months to get on Mary’s schedule for treatment. Mary Tarbell started consulting with the Silver Academy in March of 2020. She immediately began training teachers and staff about the pandemic-related trauma unique to children. Mary provided team building exercises and classroom guidance techniques. Now that in-person school is back in full-swing, Mary is delighted to go into the classroom and work directly with the children.

Mary's curriculum for students includes teaching skills in problem solving, decision making, and coping. She is enjoying building connections within the school and can provide weekly and consistent lessons on the all-important topic of socio-emotional learning.  "I love forging relationships across the parking lot. Everyone at the Silver Academy is very welcoming. I adore this new part of my work," Mary says. 


A gift to students 

Samara Sofian is delighted to be working with Mary Tarbell. As a school director, she is acutely aware of the fall-out and effects of Covid-19. Students have a unique set of needs directly related to the pandemic. Mary is careful, intentional, and thoughtful in her approach. Her kind compassionate way makes students feel heard and seen. They immediately have bonded with her.

Sofian remarked how committed Mary is to the community. “The gift JFS has given us in the form of Mary Tarbell is extraordinary and appreciated. It could not have come at a better time.”