An innovative social-emotional learning program established in the Clayton school district will be expanded in up to 30 schools in New Jersey over the next five years as a result of a law signed on May 11.

The Clayton Model, described as a trauma-informed intervention program that provides a network of services for students, teachers and parents, is currently available in five Gloucester County schools: Central Early Childhood Center (Deptford Township School District), Aura Elementary School (Elk Township School District), Herma Simmons Elementary School (Clayton Public School District), Billingsport Elementary School (Paulsboro Public Schools) and Parkview Elementary School (Westville Public Schools).

The goal is to help students in kindergarten through fifth grade come to the classroom ready to learn, said Clayton Model director Lisa Twomey. She said social emotional learning is important because kids need to come to the classroom in an emotionally, mentally stable way, ready to learn.

Kristin Curtis, senior project coordinator at The Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University-Camden, which is evaluating the program, said The Clayton Model works to receive referrals from teachers or parents about children who might be struggling in school, maybe academically.

It also could be that children are having behavioral challenges that are causing them to act out in class. Curtis said the kids then will receive services from the Clayton Model to work to have behavioral modifications, social-emotional support and mental health support as well.

Curtis said the model really works to provide individualized services to the child and whatever they need.

"This is not a cookie-cutter type service. It really works to figure out what are the needs of this child and how they can support them whether it's through mental health counseling or emotional support," said Curtis.

Additionally, services are offered for parents and teachers. Curtis said this model really has the opportunity to expand and impact school cultures and families in the communities as well.

The Clayton Model is a universal school-based program that serves all students regardless of classification using two different strategies, said Twomey. She said the first strategy teaches the students about processing, integrating and applying social-emotional skills. The second strategy focuses on creating a safe and caring learning environment. The model uses tiered supports and provides educators and caregivers the opportunities to expand their own involvement with the program in the community.

Twomey said she would love to see this program in all elementary schools across New Jersey. Curtis said it will help provide support to children returning to school during and even after the pandemic and it will help kids learn to re-enter school and re-socialize.

"While much of social emotional learning occurs at home, it manifests in social relationships and in the classroom, " said Twomey.

Kids deal with a lot of stress at home but then they are expected to come to school and focus on learning, she added. So the idea is to provide services to help students work through those issues so when they come into the classroom, they are prepared to put those issues aside in order to learn.

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