From D.C. to Medellín, Every Child Needs SEL

A Teacher's Perspective on the Lifelong Benefits of SEL

I have been the Second Step Program’s number one fan since before I knew what it was. When I was little, sharing was difficult for me. I shared a room with my younger sister, Caroline, and we shared a narrow bathroom with our three older siblings. Caroline and I had at least one screaming fight daily, usually to the point that she ended up in tears.

My father, Tim Shriver, had been working in the field of social-emotional learning, and he applied his knowledge to us regularly. It was annoying at the time, but boy, am I grateful today.

Here’s one example of how my father taught us to communicate our emotions. When I was about nine years old, Caroline had taken one of my shirts and spilled tomato sauce on it. I was furious. Dad came up the stairs to intervene and calmly stated, “Who would like to start? Please use your ‘I’ language.”

He shepherded us through the process of identifying and explaining our feelings—sad (Caroline) and angry (me)—without name-calling. He coached us through apologizing to one another and reminded me to “use my words, not my fists,” quickly bringing the contentious situation to a calm and respectful resolution.

I believe emotional awareness is a skill all kids need, regardless of where or how they live. The skills my father taught me were just as crucial for me and my classmates at my elementary school—kids who were generally from financially comfortable families living in safe neighborhoods—as they are for my students in Medellín, Colombia, who generally come from financially struggling families living in unsafe neighborhoods. Social-emotional learning is important for every child.

While I was volunteering at the Marina Orth Foundation in Medellín, my dad came to visit me. We discussed the behavioral issues in Colombia’s overpopulated classrooms. I felt like emotional communication and the level of emotional understanding between students, and between students and teachers, was lacking. When my dad suggested we implement a social-emotional learning program, we contacted Committee for Children for support and ideas. Since then, I’ve been working with Committee for Children’s International Partnerships Manager on setting up the initiative to implement the Spanish version of the Second Step Program, called Programa Paso Adelante. Although logistics were sometimes challenging, and the workload large for a small team, I consider the initiative a huge success. We received the full support of the school principal, which was essential, and are now launching the new program. Even though my time as a volunteer is over, I’m so glad to have been a part of this initiative. It’s important to me that other children have the opportunity to develop the social-emotional skills I was so lucky to learn from my father.

About the Author

Kathleen Shriver grew up in Washington, D.C., and graduated from Boston College in May 2016. As a volunteer for Marina Orth Foundation in 2016–2017, she worked as an English teacher and communications coordinator. Marina Orth’s team of staff and volunteers provide schools with academic support in English, Spanish, robotics, mathematics, and technology. Today, Kathleen’s best friend and confidant is her little sister Caroline.


Learn more about social-emotional learning, research on the topic, and how it benefits students in the classroom, at home, and in their lives.