Arizona Department of Education: Social-Emotional Learning Will Solve Children’s Mental Health Decline

December 14, 2021

By Corinne Murdock |

Following an advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on youth mental health, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) encouraged educators to expand social-emotional learning (SEL) implementation. SEL encompasses a wide swath of subjects, including the controversial Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) and Critical Race Theory (CRT), to educate children on handling emotionally-charged issues while building social and self-awareness. SEL often centers around identity, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs.

ADE suggested their free online SEL Course as a means of fulfilling Murthy’s suggestion for educators to create a positive, safe, and affirming school environment. Their course focuses on equity, cultural responsiveness, and trauma sensitive practices. ADE also suggested the PAX Good Behavior Game, only granting free access to teachers and schools. 

Citing Murthy, ADE insinuated that the mental health decline in youth would become the next crisis after the pandemic if left unchecked. ADE also asserted that schools are ideal partners for parents in addressing youth social and emotional wellness.

“Educators and school professionals are uniquely positioned to partner with families to best support student social, emotional, and academic wellbeing in our classrooms and schools,” stated the department. “[ADE] encourages school communities to read the latest Surgeon General Advisory to understand the position of young people better and implement the recommendations offered in the advisory.”

Although Murthy’s advisory pressed the importance of reversing the decline in youth mental health, he did also admit that the government lacked knowledge on the long-term impact of the pandemic on children’s mental wellness. In fact, Murthy further admitted that some youths actually “thrived” during the pandemic, reporting increased sleep and family quality time, less academic stress and bullying, and improved schedule flexibility and coping skills.

“Many young people are resilient, able to bounce back from difficult experiences such as stress, adversity, and trauma,” wrote Murthy. “Although the pandemic’s long-term impact on children and young people is not fully understood, there is some cause for optimism. According to more than 50 years of research, increase in distress symptoms are common during disasters, but most people cope well and do not go on to develop mental health disorders. Several measures of distress that increased early in the pandemic appear to have returned to pre-pandemic levels by mid-2020. Some other measures of wellbeing, such as rates of life satisfaction and loneliness, remained largely unchanged throughout the first year of the pandemic. And while data on youth suicide rates are limited, early evidence does not show significant increases.”

SEL hasn’t been the only controversial educational approach supported by ADE. Earlier this year, ADE advertised $5,000 teacher grants through the Pulitzer Center for those who would implement the 1619 Project. Simultaneously, the latest ADE statewide assessment results revealed that students are failing in English and math.

Although controversial among local parents and community members, SEL doesn’t appear to cause issues at the state level.

Governor Doug Ducey supported SEL expansion recently. In August, Ducey announced that a portion of the $65 million for learning programs would go to SEL. The controversial method received $1.6 million out of $20.1 million American Rescue Plan dollars.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobb nominated a Phoenix elementary school teacher for a national youth leadership award for her classroom activism rooted in and related to SEL.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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