Reflecting on Spring 2020 to Inform Back-to-School

Back-to-school this year is unlike any back-to-school we’ve ever seen. Families, schools and districts are all united in the desire to chart the best path forward for each student to ensure that academic, as well as social and emotional needs, are met. This requires maximum collaboration, creativity and flexibility from all.

We recently sat down with a few of our partners (virtually) to talk about how they handled the transition to distance learning in the spring and how that affected their approach to social emotional learning. While each partner has a different approach to teaching SEL during the pandemic, we were not surprised to hear common themes emerge across all – resiliency, empathy, and determination to put relationship building at the forefront of distance learning.


Region One Education Service Center (Southern Texas)


Region One Education Service Center has been a long-time partner of ACT and was midway through testing their student SE skills through Tessera when COVID-19 hit. Like so many, Region One had to pivot quickly to respond to the pandemic while still doing everything they could to connect with and assess their students ̶  in an entirely new way. Luckily, Tessera’s online-friendly resources made shifting to this new academic landscape easier. “The facilitators have also just gotten creative,” added Delamar. “They’re reaching out in classroom-type settings virtually, but they’re also reaching out one-on-one because they are able to do that.” Staying connected to the students remained the center’s top priority. “The facilitators are meeting with the kids via Zoom, via Microsoft Teams, via Google Classroom, via Facebook Live,” said Delamar. “I know the facilitators are…helping the students find the silver lining in this time of tragedy. And the kids are rising to the challenge. And they’re also there to provide support for kids who are struggling.” Region One is planning to deviate from their usual assessment schedule of testing in the spring to add a testing window this fall. The administration is eager for the opportunity to assess how the pandemic has affected student’s SE skills. “We want to see the impact of all of this on the students,” shared Delamar. “We want to see what interventions we need to include to support them.” No matter where learning takes place, Region One remains dedicated to providing its students with the social emotional skills they need to achieve career and academic success. Read more about Region One’s Experience here.


Pinellas Virtual School – Florida Virtual School® (Pinellas, Florida)

ACT®Mawi Learning

When COVID-19 forced the shift from in-person learning to distance learning for schools across the country, many educators were looking to virtual schools like Pinellas Virtual School (a partner of Florida Virtual School®) to help guide the transition to distance learning. While PVS was able to continue providing online learning for its students during the pandemic, they recognized how radically the pandemic may alter not only their individual student’s lives but also the larger educational climate. PVS Principal, Mandy Perry, said they were thankful to have access to Mawi Learning’s online SEL toolkit to encourage students to develop a stronger awareness of themselves and those around them and find growth opportunities. Principal Perry saw SEL competencies grow in value as students grappled with the reality of the pandemic and who they are in the larger community. “I think that [Mawi Learning] teaches people to care about themselves in terms of self-care, but [it] also teaches us to care about other people in terms of how we interact with our world and our society and the people that live in it.” Perry has also found that while many assume virtual learning leads to a disconnect between student and educator, she believes reality is just the opposite. “We get a different perspective on students,” shared Perry. “Sometimes, kids…tell us things that they wouldn’t normally write in an assignment that they’re going to hand into the teacher…[The students] are more free to expose their vulnerable side. They give us some insight into things that are happening in their lives.” Though it is uncertain what K-12 education will look like in the months and years to come, Perry is confident that providing more opportunities for learning—whether virtual, face-to-face, or a blend of the two—is essential to the future of K-12 schools. Check out the full interview with PVS here.


McPherson Middle School (McPherson, Kansas)

Tessera and Mawi Learning

McPherson Middle School and Guidance Counselor, Jeff Allmon, have a long-standing history of adoption and application of SEL. So, when COVID-19 closed the physical doors of the school last spring, there was no question that SEL would remain part of the students’ learning while at home. McPherson Middle School has used Tessera’s online assessment tool for several years, and before the shift to distance learning, Allmon was using Mawi Learning’s SEL curriculum in-person with students. “I think SEL assessment and intervention are critical at the middle school level. Middle school kids are just the right age for looking inward at themselves.” Mawi Learning’s blended and online courses made the transition to online learning much smoother. While the curriculum provides exercises and lessons to build academic knowledge, Allmon also liked that it invites students to participate by applying that knowledge to activities they can do at home. In one exercise, he encouraged his students to safely record themselves doing something; as students uploaded videos of themselves jumping on pogo sticks or engaging in jump rope competitions, Allmon crosswalked the activities back to key SEL concepts.  Though Allmon does not yet know how COVID-19 will impact assessment scores in the long run, he does not doubt that pairing Tessera with Mawi Learning will positively influence student outcomes. Read the full story here.

Just like these partners, we don’t really know what to expect in the future, but we do know SE skills are key to a lifetime of success, transferring to every aspect of your educators’ and students’ lives. As your schools and districts continue to grapple with safely returning to learning, we’re here to help. We have many free resources to help educators and students put SEL concepts into practice from home or in-classroom. We also have several free webinars to help parents and families during this time. If you’re looking to implement SEL assessment, curriculum, or professional development, our SEL experts are ready to create a customized learning plan to fit your needs.