What’s at the Heart of Harding School?

Social-Emotional Learning Program Helps Students Cope, Open Up, and Socialize

UCSB group leaders Daniela Miranda and Alex Brum take turns answering “icebreakers” with 6th grader Zoe Jacinto during their first friendship group of the new semester. Jacinto is in her second round of friendship groups and quickly confided in her mentors after they opened up to her. | Credit: Paul Wellman

Hordes of recent studies show that today’s youth are bearing much heavier burdens than their parents did in terms of stress and pressure to succeed ​— ​hurting their ability to perform academically and form healthy friendships. 

For 12-year-old Zoe Jacinto, the same was true until she began friendship groups last year at Harding University Partnership School, an elementary school in Santa Barbara Unified School District. 

Friendship groups are the second tier in Harding’s three-tiered social-emotional learning program ​— ​implemented in partnership with UC Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation (SBACT) ​— ​which aims to help students from kindergarten to 6th grade learn healthy coping skills, open up to their peers, and socialize better. 

“It really helped me know how to stay calm when I’m upset,” Jacinto said. “And it helps because [the mentors] give you advice on what to do sometimes.” Jacinto is beginning her second round of the friendship groups, so this time around, she will have new kids in her group and may be talking about new issues.

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