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Valparaiso School Board gets update on social emotional learning

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Valparaiso Community Schools

Officials at Valparaiso Community Schools say they're addressing some of the barriers to students' education through social emotional learning. Director of Social Emotional Learning Dr. Erin Hawkins told the school board Thursday that SEL is about more than just mental health but also about taking care of the whole child.

She noted that a number of students are facing food and housing insecurity, among other challenges that can get in the way of learning. "They may be sheltered, but they may also be moving around to different homes for the evening. They may be splitting their family to make sure everyone has a safe place to stay. We have had families that are staying in their cars, in their vehicles. And so one of the things that we're able to do is to make school a place that's stable," Hawkins said.

Addressing students' needs includes offering programs on body safety, anti-bullying and pro-social skills — but also responding to crises, like the loss of a parent or classmate. "Our school really can become a hub for families and a place where when something tragic happens or something that's life-altering happens for them, that they know they can call the school," Hawkins added.

School Board Member Dr. Rob Behrend said there's a huge need for these kinds of programs. "If we want to fool ourselves and say, 'Well, this doesn't happen in Valparaiso,' that's not the truth. Talk to the local police. They will tell you. There's a big-time need for this stuff in our community, and no kid should go home hungry," he said.

Hawkins said 30 percent of Valparaiso students qualify for free or reduced lunch, while more than 100 students are technically homeless or in foster care.