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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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House Systems and Communal Dining

— A news story by Hilary Douglas in today’s edition of Britain’s Daily Express reports on a program called “Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL),” designed to improve the educational environment of primary and secondary schools. While some features of the program clearly apply only to younger students, there is much that is relevant to residential college environments as well (and much that is just amusing).

The story carries the tongue-in-cheek headline “Children Taught How to be Happy,” and it describes the implementation of the SEAL program at the Morpeth Road School in Blyth, Northumberland. “The classes led to dramatically-improved academic achievement, attendance and behaviour.”

Two of the principal improvements that the school has introduced by means of the SEAL program are a house system and an increase in the amount of time adults spend talking with students, especially over meals in the dining hall:

Last week it [the Morpeth Road School] started a house system, dividing children into three Harry Potter-style “houses” to help with a sense of belonging – and giving them a constant houseteacher to help with pastoral care.

Mr Bell said: “One of the first things that we did was to extend the lunch period to an hour and 30 minutes and to get adults to sit and eat with the pupils.

“They are trained to start conversations on a variety of subjects, really promoting all the things we used to do as a family. Sitting around a table together to eat was the norm but now very rarely does that happen. The kids also learn to serve the food and choose from vegetables set out in the middle of the table. They are encouraged to talk about anything that concerns or worries them. It is an excellent way to have them talk in a relaxed atmosphere…. Most of our kids come with some sort of baggage as this is a disadvantaged area, so it is vital that we get them to talk about what has happened in their lives.”

All of this transfers pretty directly from younger children to older children (and to human beings generally). And further:

The youngsters are given a sense of pride by growing their own fruit and vegetables on the school allotment.

“We have elderly residents living at the back of the allotment and they chatter to the kids,” added Mr Bell. “They come in and read to the children. Giving them a normal family experience as it used to be gives the kids an emotional confidence.”

This is good advice. Developing a sense of attachment to a school’s gardens and grounds is important, as is a mix of age groups within the school community. These are not just ideas for primary and secondary schools.

And finally:

Ministers believe “social and emotional intelligence” classes will help stop children from turning into louts.

Amen. The global lout population is big enough already.

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