Social-Emotional Support at GPS

GPS Blog
In addition to academics, another important aspect of educating the whole girl is ensuring her comfort in social situations and helping her understand how to manage her emotions. This year Casey Caldwell Santos ’08 and Heather Landreth, our Middle and Upper School Counselors, respectively, implemented a robust social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that is taught at the grade level.

“Our goal is to focus on the topics of self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationships, and responsible decision making. Based on their needs, we scaffold these by grade level," Santos explains.
Programming is taught once a month on a rotating schedule in Upper School, where one grade participates each week. Landreth says the increased learning opportunities this year have been a welcome addition that allows for more creative freedom, which the girls have found refreshing. “We have the opportunity to create engaging scenarios and lessons that are experiential and fun, rather than being clinical,” she says.

Students are polled by grade level about the five major topics to help Santos and Landreth determine the elements for which the girls need the most support. For example, when preparing a plan for a lesson on relationships, survey results and conversations with senior class leaders informed Landreth that there was growing concern for next year—going off to college—so she was able to build scenarios on roommate relationships, and they explored aggressive, avoidant, and assertive approaches.

“Using breakout groups, role play, games, and more, we looked at everything from what to do if you’re trying to study in your dorm room and your roommate is being loud to uninvited guests, differing sleep schedules, and more,” says Landreth. “We want to continue to find methods that interest them, rather than speaking at them with a presentation.”

Santos and Landreth believe the prioritizing of SEL this school year has been beneficial for the girls, especially those who may not always feel comfortable with one-on-one counseling or who may have a hard time asking for help. "We aim to destigmatize mental health support, so this has been a great way for us to connect with students that we wouldn’t otherwise,” Santos says.

Looking to the future, Santos and Landreth are excited to continue on this positive trajectory. “As with all programs, we aim to provide the best social-emotional support for girls. We're in an R&D phase—it’s ever-changing,” says Santos.

Landreth adds, “We can adapt it to be whatever we want it to be, based on the evolution of research and the changing needs of our girls. We always want it to be relevant and authentic with girls' well-being remaining front and center.”