SEL Centers create safe spaces for middle and high school students

Nov. 17, 2021

Starting this school year, Battle Ground Public Schools has expanded the use of learning centers that provide a safe space for students in need of assistance managing their emotions. Battle Ground opened the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Centers in its high schools a couple of years ago, and brought them to middle school buildings this year for the first time. 

SEL Center at Chief Umtuch Middle School

The Wolverine Den at Chief Umtuch Middle School includes a space for students just looking for a bit of peace and quiet

SEL Centers are one component of the district’s approach to social emotional learning. In Battle Ground Public Schools, social emotional learning starts with Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or the teaching of behavior expectations in schools. Students learn what behaviors are expected during the day, just as they learn math and reading. Positive behaviors are reinforced with acknowledgements, and students and schools can earn things such as an extra recess or a school dress up day. Students who do not demonstrate expected behaviors receive support in the way of tiered interventions.

One of those early interventions may include visiting a building’s SEL Center, each of which has its own school-specific name. The rooms are staffed with a trained professional who works with students to help them understand their emotions, learn how to manage them, and get back into the classroom environment as quickly as possible. The goal of these rooms is to be proactive, rather than reactive or punitive.

“We want to provide a safe space where students can learn to manage their emotions, take responsibility for their own actions, and understand how to mend and maintain relationships,” said Tom Adams, the district’s director of student services. “SEL rooms also help other students by limiting potential disruptions in the classroom.”

Lillie Shaver runs the SEL Center at Chief Umtuch Middle School. Known as the Wolverine Den, students have quickly learned Shaver’s room is a place where they can find a little peace and quiet, or a listening ear. Shaver said her aim is to get students to feel safe sharing what’s bothering them, help them learn to manage the situation, then return to their classroom with minimal disruption to the learning schedule. She also checks up on students throughout the day to make sure they are doing well.

white board

Students learn to manage emotions and understand behaviors at the district’s SEL Centers

“I enjoy the meaningful connections I have made with students here at Chief,” Shaver said. “I love helping students problem-solve through an issue that is getting in the way of their education, reconnect with their teacher and have a solid plan to get back to learning.”

SEL Centers benefit all students by minimizing potential learning disruptions in classrooms, while helping to restore individuals experiencing mental or emotional distress in a non-stigmatizing way. Teachers also benefit with the added behavioral supports that assist with students, allowing them to focus on education. 

Social emotional learning, including staffing for the SEL rooms, is supported through local levy funding. The local levy funds student support and programs beyond what the state provides for basic education.


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