Abby is from Albuquerque and is co-owner of The Paper. She is also an experienced education attorney who eats, sleeps and breathes public education.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning defines social emotional learning or SEL as “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.”

Cynthia Ramirez is the founding co-chair of the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for New Mexico. “A Chicana born and raised in Albuquerque” she brings decades of experience and expertise to the work. She also holds a seat on the board of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of New Mexico, Bachelor’s degrees in both Sociology and Psychology, and a Master’s in Social Work.

Now in her 17th year of SEL work, Cynthia says SEL has been practiced in NM schools in various ways over the years. Currently its Director of Student Support, Cynthia has been with Technology Leadership High School, a public charter school in Albuquerque, since it first opened in 2015. She tells me that Tech is part of a small group of schools that were first in the state to provide access to mental health services for all students. She says the traditional education model provides social work only for some students who even then must endure an arduous process to prove their need but that Tech “flipped this model and assumed all students would benefit from receiving school social work services.”

After all these years she says SEL is finally becoming more visible in New Mexico, in part, for a couple of reasons. First, Yazzie-Martinez. Equity is a key component of SEL and an outcome of this case is the requirement of every school district and public charter school to have an Equity Council, which Cynthia explains is tasked with developing “a culturally and linguistically responsive framework to describe how a school’s policies and practices would have equity at the center.”

Second, Coronavirus. Cynthia points to the recent declaration of a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health by the American Association of Pediatrics. This declaration states that the “worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19.”

Awareness is good but Cynthia says its just a start and there’s much more work to be done. “SEL isn’t a fad. The importance of SEL skills and developmental relationships are now emphasized as crucial, but systems are barely catching up with this need.” She goes on to say that “To implement SEL with integrity, all stakeholders, staff and students and families need to commit to this real work of inner exploration so that we all become invested in our children and community.”

In closing she tells me that “Our students have needed us to be our best selves to walk with them in becoming their best selves, and we need educational institutions that unapologetically believe and support that with funding and policies.”

For more information visit the SEL4NM website at https://sel4nm.org/.

Disclosure: Abby Lewis represents Technology Leadership High School in her education law practice.