With numerous studies touting the positive long-term effects of social emotional learning (SEL) programs, Marymount of Santa Barbara is ensuring all its students benefit from these skills with a new SEL curriculum and student wellness program.

“Investment in the social and emotional well-being is a top priority for Marymount,” said Christina Broderick, head of school.  “The commitment to raise and grow healthy, happy and balanced learners at every stage of their development is vital.”

To help achieve this goal, Broderick has appointed Mario Bucio as the new director of counseling and student wellness, and Anna Forterra as a new junior kindergarten-8th grade counselor.

“For generations, as a whole, society has understood that academics, sports, music, etc. need to be systematically taught,”Bucio said. “However, the same tenants didn’t seem to extend to social emotional development and self-regulation.

“Somehow, children were supposed to develop these skill sets without direct and organized instruction.”

For years, Marymount has valued the idea of educating the whole child by weaving in SEL throughout the curriculum junior kidergarten through 8th grade, in its ethics, advisory, comparative religions classes, and community service opportunities.

The school is now providing dedicated blocks of time for students to learn these critical skills through specific SEL classes, one-on-one and small-group sessions.

“Through years of rigorous research, we now understand that not only is SEL critical for long term wellness but is also the mediator for students accessing their education,” Bucio said. “We at Marymount are so proud to lead the charge in changing students’ educational experiences to include SEL.”

Bucio is facilitating access to knowledge and strategies related to student wellness, behavior management and adaptive skill development.

Forterra will be working closely with Bucio. A former teacher, Forterra gained her master’s in social work from UC Berkeley, served as a school counselor for years, and most recently coordinated wellness center services for some 2,000 middle school students in the Napa Valley Unified School District.

“I believe that people learn best when they feel supported, included, and that they matter,” Forterra said.

Forterra will teach social emotional learning and direct skills in all classrooms at all grade levels (either directly or by supporting teachers), with smaller strategic groups with targeted counseling goals like creating positive friendships, or with more individualized support for students going through a period that is particularly difficult.

“I have chosen to work in schools because of how unique they are as places in our communities explicitly devoted to developing powerful and thoughtful leaders, and I feel excited to come to work every day to support all students in feeling like they belong and have value,” Forterra said.

Forterra shares office space in the new Social Emotional Learning classroom with learning specialist Matthew Kustura who also works closely with Bucio and Forterra.

Painted in soothing blues and dotted with bean bags and cozy rugs, the area is a calming space for students to practice mindfulness activities such as guided breathing, as well as skills like problem solving and managing anxiety.

Bucio, Forterra and Broderick will be providing an in-depth look at Marymount’s new SEL program during their parent coffees this fall. 

“This is a dynamic time in education and we are delighted to be in this phase of innovation,” Bucio said.

Marymount of Santa Barbara is an independent school for children from age 4 through grade 8 that places equal value on the intellectual, social-emotional, and ethical dimensions of learning to prepare bright, confident, and caring young people for the next adventures of their lives.

For more information, email info@marymountsb.org or call 805-569-1811 ext. 131.

— Molly Seguel for Marymount of Santa Barbara.

Anna Forterra, Mario Bucio and Marymount Middle School students Harry, left, Simran, Sadie and Logan.

Anna Forterra, Mario Bucio and Marymount Middle School students Harry, left, Simran, Sadie and Logan. (Courtesy photo)