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Mary Menacho

The DNA of SEL at Trinity School

Social Emotional Learning imbues every aspect of life at Trinity School on both campuses.

The DNA of SEL is in our values:

  • Care for each other
  • Inclusion and respect for every person and family as they are
  • Integrity
  • Fairness
  • Forgiveness
  • Grit that is just right for this child’s growing edge
  • Responsibility
  • Celebration

– to name a few of our driving values that inhabit every interaction in our purposefully small community. Our invisible foundation for and dedication to SEL has its roots deep in the productive foundation of Episcopal education that for over 400 years has been uplifting the human spirit to use sound learning for social good.

It is this grounding and loving purpose that infuses our DNA with SEL.


In daily life SEL is in the DNA of students’ experiences through relationships and programs:


Caring professionals and school programs offer students choice and opportunity while guiding them in the sometimes daunting work of “growing up” in these ways:

  • Child and teacher relationships – based on mutual respect and trust, as well as gentle and clear accountability to our shared values. It is the “job” of every professional on campus to find, support and nurture the good in every child while supporting those growing edges.
  • Same and different – There is room for both and in between. In this inclusive community that welcomes differences, teachers help students embrace the fact that we all have different stories we are working on. From the configuration of each family, to the languages we speak, to the color of our skin, to a family’s faith, to our gender identities, to our strengths and challenges in learning or making friends, we are all working on our own stories of growing into our unique goodness.
  • Chapel – to have time to ponder and develop a vocabulary to contain the big questions we humans have about faith, living together now and across time, how we guide our lives in the knowledge that we are loved; we are enough.
  • Service learning – through class projects and school-wide projects. Students learn how to learn from and to work with people and needs, learning to set aside what we think we know to listen, learn, and work together to make a productive change. Students move from concepts of sustainability to the daily practices that steward our school environment. Trinity students to grow toward being conscientious and thoughtful citizens.
  • Academic projects – with open ends so students can go as deep as their current development takes them. Whether a full-fledged project-based learning sequence built around a meaningful question or writing into the fullness of one’s feelings or demonstrating “how I got this answer,” students regularly use the skills and concepts they are learning applied to new challenges.
  • Play – it is how we try on who we are at this moment in time. Play is where we practice everything we know about being a person – no matter our age! During playtimes, students have choices: free play, organized game, MakerSpace, open Art Room, open Science Room, and Library. With caring adults giving students guidance as needed, we want children to have as much freedom for play that mutual safety can allow.
  • Talk It Out – a school-wide program adapted to the developmental needs of each class, but grounded in a process for cooling down after a kerfuffle, listening to each other’s version of what happened, hearing what the other person needs, working together on a plan to support each other’s needs, moving on and trying again.
  • Class commitments – each class defines the agreements and consequences by which they want to live as a class community. Teachers guide this process.
  • Class meetings – weekly or as needed, classes meet with talk through the opportunities and challenges they are facing in their lives together.
  • Community gatherings – In Chapel students listen to each other’s ideas and support/celebrate important moments like birthdays or class accomplishments
  • Buddy classes – “Older” and “younger” grades regularly get together, often for the older students to mentor or celebrate the work of the younger buddy. This leads to students across grades knowing and supporting each other.
  • Friendly, engaged, professionals. Of course, a student’s primary relationship is with the classroom teachers and peers. And from all the adults at Trinity know each student and communicate closely and professionally with each other to surround each child with care. Children know they are known and that any adult will help them.


We understand how children grow and change as they grow, so we watch for and support social emotional developmental markers. For example, let’s pull one small strand from the DNA of SEL at Trinity School to see how it changes as a child grows. Let’s pull the strand of “developing friendship” from age 3 to 11, knowing that each child moves through friendship development uniquely and in ways that are not necessarily bound to an age or a grade level.

During the three-year-old year parallel play starts giving way to wanting to play with others. Physical problem solving is normal as teachers guide children to use their words. (Talk It Out is already starting.) Parallel play continues as children need to take a break from beginning friendships.

As friendship develops, so does the desire to direct the play. It can be hard to value another person’s perspective.

Growing on, many children try out tattling as a way of trying out gaining or testing authority. This can include presenting conflicts from a highly personalized perspective that may not represent all aspects of what actually took place.

Friendships can start to pair off. Children are trying to figure out social relationships and can use pairing to test out their working theories of what being a friend means.

Still often bound by literal and highly personalized perspectives, conflicts often arise.

Children thrive when adults can support students, knowing that while intensely felt, conflicts are the opportunity to gradually embrace the perspective and experience of others.

Growing older, gender issues become more important. Friendships can start clustering around shared gender identities. Justice and fairness can be passionately held values, even while sharing secrets and forming definite opinions can continue to skew perceptions.

Valuing children’s love for grouping and negotiating, teachers work closely with students to help them navigate competitiveness and binary perceptions of what is right or wrong.

Then, gradually, children begin to be able to more fully embrace a broader scope of not only fairness, but also the importance of context and circumstance in evaluating one’s own needs and those of others. Groups and clubs can start to thrive as children enjoy this broader understanding of “what works.”

As students trend toward adolescence and prepare for middle school, they are beginning to value their peer relationships more and more.

This can lead to testing rules and boundaries and the child having greater faith in peer mediation. This faith in peers will continue to grow, even while, to guide the “stormy seas” of friendships that grow and change, we adults know they are still looking to us for assurance and guidance.

  • Supporting children in navigating friendship is just one aspect strand in the DNA of SEL at Trinity School. Social-emotional learning for children is far more than a program or an approach.

It is a way of being at Trinity School.

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