Vitality Magazine

Social Emotional Learning and Skills Are Needed for Success in School and Beyond

by RMFF Staff

District leader shares how his schools have made social emotional learning (SEL) a priority and the impact that has had on students, especially during the pandemic.

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As Superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, and leader of more than 16,400 students and 1,170 full-time educators, Dr. Jeff Butts knows that social skills and emotional management are key to students succeeding in school and in life.  

Social Emotional Learning, also referred to as SEL, is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. A recent survey of 762 educators found that 80% believe positive emotions are critical for academic success and emotional well-being is crucial for developing foundational literacy and communication skills.  

Dr. Butts and his district’s educators have long been aware of how worry, fear, tension and apprehension can negatively impact their students’ abilities to complete coursework and actively engage in school. This is why addressing mental wellness and introducing SEL into curricula has been his focus for the past two years, since receiving a $1.3 million Prevention Matters grant from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

Launched in 2018, Prevention Matters provides K-12 students with evidence-based substance use prevention programming to equip students with skills that help them avoid drugs and alcohol while also improving their academic achievement, attendance, classroom behavior, and social and emotional well-being.

“I’m so pleased that with the support of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, we can respond to the needs of our students, teachers and community, and make social, emotional and behavioral wellness a funded priority in Wayne Township,” said Dr. Butts. “And certainly, while the need for social and emotional management in school, and in life, has always existed, 2020 was unprecedented in demonstrating that need. America is at a crossroads when it comes to how our society addresses mental wellness, and it’s completely expected and appropriate that we’re witnessing our community experience fear, specifically during the pandemic and our call for equitable change for people of color.”

“We must extinguish that stigma in society. If we guide students in emotional management, we will better prepare our youth for school and life, and ultimately, hopefully, see fewer community members struggling with substance abuse and suicide.”

Anxiety is the most common mental wellness concern in the U.S. and more Americans are expected to die this year by suicide than in car accidents. This is also evident in our students. In Indiana, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Hoosier teens. With Wayne Township’s Prevention Matters grant, teachers are learning how to weave emotional management skills into their lessons. They are teaching students that mental health – caring for yourself and those you love – is a priority. Showing compassion, offering assistance, and emoting positivity in our voices and facial expressions can help us and others while managing difficult times. 

“While many of us are comfortable acknowledging publicly our physical suffering, for which we almost always seek help, many more of us privately experience mental suffering, for which we almost never reach out,” said Dr. Butts. 

To learn more about the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township , visit

Dr. Butts is the Superintendent of the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township and administrator of the district’s $1.3 million Prevention Matters grant, which it was awarded from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation in 2018.

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