Character Wrong

OPINION: The SEL program CharacterStrong is weak at best and is not beneficial to RHS students.


Julia McLean, Staff Reporter

OPINION: The SEL program CharacterStrong is weak at best and is not benefical to RHS students.

In mid November when Rocklin High School began to implement SEL, a large majority of RHS students had never heard of SEL, and many did not even know its meaning. SEL stands for Social Emotional Learning, which is basically a form of curriculum that focuses on one’s social and emotional intelligence. Programs that create these curricula usually include topics like mental health, self awareness, and relationship skills. SEL is a relatively new idea, and has only been around since the mid 90s. SEL can have a positive impact on students, when the correct program is used, and when people actually participate. However, if the wrong program is chosen, it can lead to a larger disconnect than before.

So why is Rocklin High School doing SEL? Well, it all starts with the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative effect on students and their mental health, so the State of California highly recommended that school districts adopt a SEL program to help support their students. Rocklin Unified went to their Program Specialist, Amanda Bannister, and asked her to form a team to help choose the right SEL program for the district. A team of about 15 was formed, made up of staff members from different campuses, different grade levels, and even a mental health specialist. This team was given about 20 programs to evaluate using a guide from a leading SEL company, CASEL, which is the group that began to modernize social emotional learning.
The key factors that went into choosing a program were its relevance to students, accessibility for students, and something that reached all grade levels. They also needed to consider that it could be implemented regardless of a teacher’s expertise in SEL. What was not a strong consideration when evaluating programs was research.

The program CharacterStrong claims that defining evidence-based as, “Large-scale rigorous designs, such as randomized controlled trial designs,” is simply too narrow. Therefore, they decided that defining it as, “Intentionally designed to integrate common elements of effective practice that research has causally linked to improved outcomes of interest,” was much more fitting. Essentially, they have never actually had research done to see if their program is effective. All of the research they provide is about positive relationships in the classroom between student and teacher.

The history of CharacterStrong is just as rocky as it’s research. The program was created in 2016 by Houston Kraft and John Norlin. These two men are known for their public speaking, but what exactly are they speaking about? They are motivational speakers. They visit schools, companies, and even churches to spread the word about, well, it’s hard to tell. Kraft tends to focus on loving relationships and kindness, while Norlin tends to lean more towards servant leadership, the idea that you should help your community and put others first. This has led them to become public speakers with years of experience, the only problem is neither of them focus on mental health, or social emotional learning. Neither of them are mental health professionals, nor have any experience in that field.

Social Emotional Learning has been proven to be beneficial, if the correct program is used but our district spent $10,000 on a program that isn’t based in relevant research.
Next time around, maybe the district will ask for student input when making a decision that directly affects the students. But most likely not. For now, every silver Tuesday, Rocklin High School students will sit down in their fourth period class and share out which meme they are feeling today. So what will it be, crying Michael Jordan, or laughing Tyler Perry?