top of page

Students like Amber Hershey are thinking and feeling proof that the skills associated with Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) successfully give students a structure to better understand and articulate their emotions.

By Nate Fisher

For those late to the party, SEL is an umbrella term for a range of skills and concepts that help students understand and manage their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These factors intersect with virtually any academic, athletic, and career goal and have improved academic performance, sharpened attention, reduced disruptive behavior, and increased motivation to learn.

For Amber, SEL has provided tools to aid her navigation of a sense of self-awareness in overdrive. “There’s a part of me that’s a kid, but then there’s a part of me that’s mature,” she explains. “So I can think like an adult, but sometimes what I say or what I do still reminds people that I’m a kid.” On a daily basis, Amber traverses complex internal landscapes for a seventh grader, and the vocabulary, emotional regulation, and understanding she picks up from SEL-integrated curriculum is best demonstrated by her perspective on solving problems.


“When there’s something I don’t like to do, I try to look at it in a scientific way,” Amber says. Part of the “scientific way” is gathering data on why she doesn’t like performing a particular task. “Let’s gather data to see why I don’t like to do this and find ways that it can help me,” is her mission statement in these circumstances. The first step is to retrace her steps and “look back.” Her expedition seeks methods she’s used in the past to overcome the obstacle of disliking doing a specific thing. During the mental excavation, she visualizes a filing system to store all useful findings. “I do like a mental image of a notepad and I write it all down, and then I store it away in a filing cabinet,” she says, walking us through her elaborate evidence-gathering system.


She likens it to “decoding a computer program.” The potency of her visualization helps her examine otherwise inaccessible concepts. It’s a three-tier procedure that shuffles through her feelings and investigates her likes and dislikes. Events from the past, present, and possible future are organized into one column, which she pieces together with a separate column containing another list. The goal is to check for similarities, discrepancies and find common themes. All useful information is stuffed in the vault to help her learn and grow more in the future. The data collecting holds an additional perk for her friends, as she reaches out to them with what she’s learned whenever they’re having a rough time.


Amber thanks SEL for pushing her “out of [her] comfort zone.” Whereas she once fixated on the roadblocks she encountered during conversation and expressing her feelings, she now finds motivation and confidence to tackle once overwhelming social difficulties. “It’s kind of like trying to figure out the inner workings of a clock,” she muses, “what gears go where and which knobs you need to turn to get somebody to work right.” Amber’s ticking loud, and trust us, when this self-reported “basically a therapist” is released into the professional world, all of us will hear the chime.

When there’s something I don’t like to do, I try to look at it in a scientific way.
bottom of page