Annemarie and George Roeper founded The Roeper School in 1941 with the progressive goal to educate children to become “thoughtful, humane adults.” Today, educators recognize the path to this goal as social-emotional learning.
Since those earliest years, The Roeper School, located in Bloomfield Hills and Birmingham, has engaged students with private academic instruction founded on social and emotional intelligence.
“The Roepers knew that when not just a child’s academic needs, but also their emotional, physical, and social needs are supported, that child will flourish, and that’s always been a part of the school’s vision,” says Micah Brown, Lower School educational counselor at Roeper.
What exactly is social-emotional learning?
“Social-emotional learning is a set of skills and competencies that contribute to a student’s sense of purpose in the world, to their identity, and to their sense of community,” says Karen Johnson, director of Roeper’s Upper School. “It includes the development of empathy for others, social awareness and sense of integrity.”
Individuals with strong social-emotional intelligence are emotionally secure, confident in their abilities and growth potential, flexible, broadminded, resilient, and can communicate thoughts and feelings effectively.
Teaching and modeling social-emotional learning to kids helps prepare them to navigate the unknown and is a universal life skill that results not only in successful students but in adults as well. The ability to self-manage, set and achieve goals, make responsible decisions, and relate well to others is a skill set that students will take with them beyond school.
“What really adds to the value of social-emotional learning is the recognition that these skills translate into adults who will make an impact on their community whether at home, school or work,” Brown says.
More immediately, students who grasp the value of social-emotional skills and weave them throughout their relationships are able to perform better academically and are more likely to reap mental wellness returns, too.
“Students with social-emotional skills know how to problem-solve within groups,” Brown says. “When they understand their own feelings, they can recognize earlier in the process that they may be getting frustrated, upset or anxious. They can catch it early and get the help they need or help themselves before there is a more significant reaction.”
Because it involves cognitive flexibility, the social-emotional skill set allows students to practice empathy for broader perspectives, critical for academic growth, Johnson says.
“For school-aged kids, the ability to take on new perspectives is really important to practice,” she says. “What if you meet someone with a very different point of view, how does that inform and enrich your community? This really helps kids think not just beyond the box, but helps them make a bigger box.”
How do students at The Roeper School build social-emotional skills?
Roeper administrators, faculty, and staff are skilled at modeling social-emotional skills and have built an environment where students, through classwork and everyday interactions with others, are able to recognize what it means to understand and empathize with varying perspectives and attitudes.
Through numerous opportunities for group collaboration and teamwork, Roeper’s Lower School students practice giving feedback constructively, preparing for future real-world situations. Middle School and Upper School mixed-grade advisory groups, held during homeroom, give students ample opportunities to learn from appropriate social interactions and group-oriented activities. These homeroom advisory groups can be especially helpful for students who come to Roeper from schools with different learning philosophies, and are critical for promoting the culture within the student body, Johnson says.
“An important piece for those who are new to learning is that we don’t have a punitive approach to negative behaviors. That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences, but instead, we recognize opportunities to do things differently next time,” she says.
With an understanding that school provides a safe space to practice social-emotional skills and to learn from mistakes, students are able to work through conflicts with empathy and respect for one another as individuals, which is a big step in developing a caring broader community.
In 1965, when Annemarie Roeper set out to reiterate The Roeper School’s preschool educational goals, she described a school that “tries to develop a person who will be able to cope with the modern world, enjoy as many facets of it as possible and contribute to it actively, constructively and creatively. This requires a person who is emotionally secure, aware of his own abilities and his place in a large, complicated and ever-changing world, a person who reacts in a flexible, broadminded and intelligent manner to the whole complexity of modern life, and who is able to communicate his thoughts and feelings.”
This culture is as relevant today at The Roeper School as it was 55 years ago, Johnson says.
“Knowing this foundation is embedded in our school’s philosophy really gives Roeper a leg up. This is what we want our kids to be.”
Content brought to you by The Roeper School. For more information, visit roeper.org.