‘Today Show’ Shines Spotlight on CICS Bucktown’s Social-Emotional Learning

It’s a simple question that has helped make a profound impact on the students at CICS Bucktown in Chicago.

“How are you feeling today?”

The question is asked daily by teachers to gauge the social and emotional health of their students. CICS Bucktown seventh-graders Davian and Lauren appreciate the opportunity to share their feelings before focusing on their classroom projects.

“Me talking to them will help me with my schoolwork and just give me that boost of energy I need,” said Lauren.

“If I was ever sad or upset, the teachers would always let me take a break in the hall or one would talk about it with me in their office,” Davian said. 

Summit Learning partner CICS Bucktown was placed in the national spotlight when NBC’s TODAY Show visited the school for a “Building Classroom Connections” story that focused on social-emotional learning (SEL). Mentoring, one of the pillars of the Summit Learning program, has helped CICS Bucktown prioritize SEL through student-teacher relationships and continue to thrive despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They want to be heard and seen, just like we do,” said Traci McCullough, an eighth-grade teacher at CICS Bucktown. “We’re going to make sure that these kids’ social and emotional are connected because, ultimately, if they’re not doing well socially and emotionally, then you’re going to see it played out in their academics.” 

CICS Bucktown, a Distinctive Schools member and part of the Chicago International Charter School network, has partnered with Summit Learning since the 2016-17 school year. In that span, the school has used Summit Learning’s mentoring component to not only gauge students’ feelings, but also help them set and achieve academic-related goals. 

“If they don’t (reach a goal), say, ‘What can we do to make sure that goal is reached later on this year?’” said Savannah Stanaszek, a second-grade teacher at CICS Bucktown. “Just having open conversations with them.”

Stanaszek uses different color codes to help her second-grade students process their emotions at the start of each class.

“In the morning, we talk about what zone we’re in,” Stanaszek said. “Red’s angry, blue’s sad, and they have to say why. So it’s, ‘I’m in the blue zone because I didn’t sleep well last night.’ Why didn’t you sleep well last night? Was there something going on?”

Antonio, a seventh-grader at CICS Bucktown, said the one-on-one attention from his mentor teacher has helped him grow into a responsible and engaging student.

“I came to this school in the third grade and I wasn’t really the most perfect kid,” Antonio said. “My teacher was really helpful to me (and) would show me how to learn from my mistakes. He helped me turn my behavior around.” 

Jermaine Weems, CICS Bucktown’s Dean of Students, said the school’s social-emotional learning places an emphasis on the consequences of choices and encourages students to work through conflict together.

“We’re teaching kids to be able to process their actions,” Weems said. “For instance, if a child does something that’s mean to another child, you give that child the table to express how it made them feel. It’s about not only teaching the kids about other alternative ways they could make those choices, but it’s also giving them that learning tool to be an advocate for themselves.”

NBC reporter Morgan Radford, who visited the school in Chicago, came away impressed with CICS Bucktown’s ability to make each student’s voice heard. 

“The best part is that it’s really working because it’s about accountability and reliability,” Radford said. “These kids know that they have a safe space with their teachers. So they feel comfortable raising their hands, asking questions, and acknowledging things they don’t know. And it really just makes the learning process less scary and authoritative and more comforting and welcoming.”

Watch the full TODAY Show segment here

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Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.