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STEAM Institute Shines with SEL Theme

When students dismissed early on Friday, November 8, educators shifted their focus from student-centered to adult-centered. The district’s bi-annual STEAM Institute was set to kick off at 1:00 pm in Mount Airy High School’s auditorium with Mount Airy’s Executive Director of The Shepherd’s House and Helping Hands Mary Boyles providing the opening keynote. Boyles shared how she strives to create partnerships that put “unity” in “community.” She shared her life’s work and shared how, in conjunction with Mount Airy City Schools, there are service opportunities available for students and adults to serve one another.

The keynote preceded 17 sessions where staff members were allowed to choose the three topics they would most like to explore in-depth. Recently, Mount Airy City Schools’ two-year social-emotional learning (SEL) journey was shared on the international stage, which affirmed the district that empowering and educating staff members was a move in the right direction. The SEL themed institute brought in district partners to share their expertise and provided time for educators to share their teaching craft with their peers. 

Chief Academic and Human Resources Officer Phillip Brown noted, “The importance of educators taking time to learn from one another and building capacity within each other cannot be understated. This is where we learn with the best by the best. We are very proud of this event and what it has become in Mount Airy City Schools.” 

MACS utilizes work and resources from CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic and Social-Emotional Learning, which defines SEL as the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. The research around SEL is clear, and it shows that students perform better on academic measures when we foster their social and emotional growth. 

Outside speakers included Dr. Wanda Boone from Durham T.R.Y., Emily McPeak from Daymark Recovery Services, Jerry Gouge from Pretty Loaded, and Kimberly Spencer from Northern Pediatrics. Dr. Boone spoke about Resilience and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their long-term effect on individuals’ across their lifespan. McPeak spoke about vicarious trauma, burnout, and self-care for educators. Gouge instructed staff on self-defense and situational awareness. Spencer taught staff members how to identify students at-risk for death by suicide and what to do for those students. Rebecca Fritchey, English teacher at MAHS, expressed her gratitude to the MACS system by stating, “Thank you for providing us with professional development opportunities. Continuing to provide sessions on current, relevant topics such as teen suicide and SEL is valuable!”  

SEL Coordinator Kini Brindle stated, “During this STEAM institute, we were fortunate enough to not only learn from colleagues but also our esteemed outside partners.  In MACS, the goal we are constantly striving toward is to bring about awareness around social and emotional needs and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health; this STEAM institute allowed us the opportunity to do just that.”

Numerous staff-lead sessions were also held during the STEAM Institute, where educators took time to facilitate the learning of their peers. Bryan Hayes, Calculus teacher at MAHS, led a session on student conferencing and illustrated how knowing where your students are is imperative to moving them where you want them to be. A hands-on session, Enhancing Engagement with Osmo in the K-2 classroom, was led by Tharrington teachers Nicole Hooker and Andrea Creech. They introduced resources enhancing literacy, math, coding, and even social-emotional competencies using the educational gaming accessory. Fara Carson, a 5th-grade teacher at Jones Intermediate, conducted a session helping her peers delve further into the district’s new SEL through an interactive lesson. She emphasized how positive affirmation brings mindfulness and self-awareness to students and teachers alike.

Mount Airy Middle School’s Health and PE teacher, Robbie Rives, reviewed the half-day professional development by noting, “I really enjoyed this event because of the opportunity to be more in touch with my profession. I love being a part of an organization that makes me feel like I'm a part of something bigger than myself. I hope we continue to have these events in the future.”