Dr. J.R Green

Dr. J.R Green’s path to superintendent of Fairfield County was, in his words, a traditional one.

He started as a teacher, then was an administrator,  a principal, and finally, in the superintendent’s office.

But one thing that Dr. Green has seen throughout his entire educational career: the need for social and emotional learning.

“Obviously, the term SEL wasn’t being used a quarter of a century ago, but we had those same kinds of concepts,” Dr. Green said. “They were as important then as they are now.”

One of Dr. Green’s favorite aspect of SEL4SC is relationship-building. He has come to appreciate the value of relationships through addressing the value of social and emotional learning.

“We often talk about the value of relationships, but without having an understanding and appreciation for the social and emotional challenges that people tend to experience in their day-to-day lives, I say that you will not be able to effectively develop those relationships,” Green said.

While in education, Dr. Green has seen increased testing procedures and more emphasis on the academic curriculum and instruction. He used the phrase “hyper-accountability” to describe the era of public education.

“We tend to focus on the curriculum and instruction and materials, but not the value of the social emotional on a person’s ability to maximize their [a student’s] potential,” Green said.

The effect of COVID-19 on public education has been monumental. Dr. Green laments over the trauma that students are facing during these unprecedented times.

“Everyone has experienced a level of trauma that they’ve never even imagined,” Green said. “You’ve had students who are coming from homes where parents have lost their income and are now struggling to make ends meet. You have young people who have seen a level of death that has never been seen before in their short lifetimes.

While SEL is not the solution to all of the problems presented by the pandemic, Dr. Green believes understanding what the children are going through––showing compassion––will lead to more success in the classroom.

“In addition to determining how we manage the academic trajectory of the young people we serve, now we are also talking about how we manage the ability to navigate the unprecedented trauma that exists in their lives,” Green said.

“I am hopeful for the future.”

DeVane Trigiani

Officially, DeVane Trigiani’s job is listed as an “Instructional Coach” at R.B. Stall High in North Charleston, South Carolina.

But she is much more than that.

Trigiani is a mom, a staunch SEL (Social Emotional Learning) advocate, and President of the South Carolina Parent Teacher Association (SCPTA).  She has been in education for eighteen years, switching careers to turn to the teaching field after the birth of her son.

“I wanted to impact kids beyond my own son,” Trigiani said. “Just being a mom, there are certain things that we do to meet our students’ needs.”

One of those things has been making sure SEL is prioritized in her classroom.

“Social emotional learning always has been involved in education because it is about educating the whole child,” Trigiani said. “We need to meet their needs in order for them to learn.”

Trigiani adds that the many facets of social emotional learning address issues outside of the classroom.

“We [teachers] are starting to realize that the outside factors are affecting the inside of the school.”

At R.B.Stall High School, there is a training program for teachers that addresses educating the “whole child.” The programs have included sessions on toxic stress and how to better meet the needs of the children.

“Having that background [the training] is good because it makes you aware of the whole child,” Trigiani said.

In her role at SCPTA, Trigiani and her fellow volunteers have spearheaded a speaking series––biweekly webinars––on social and emotional learning. The program started in July 2020. Speakers began presenting in September 2020.

“The topics are instructional because we are introducing all of the major parts of social emotional learning,” Trigiani said.

The program is in Phase I, focusing on introducing the key tenets of SEL. Phase II will include community advocacy, further continuing the framework education.

Trigiani will continue to prioritize social emotional learning in her classroom and beyond. Her goal is to grow SEL so that parents understand the importance of, and advocate for SEL. 

“We have to be mindful of our youth––they are our future,” Trigiani added. “If we are not looking at the whole child and all of the pieces at the education level, we have to rethink some things.

Shelly Blalock

When one thinks of a school building, they might envision a complex containing classrooms, a cafeteria, and a gym. For Marshall Primary School in Anderson, South Carolina, their school has all of those things.

But it now has a community garden.

Funded by the “Farm to School Garden” grant through the S.C. Department of Education, Marshall Primary School plans to use the garden to integrate opportunities for social-emotional growth and development. The school is also offering a six week SEL training for parents.

“We think the garden is going to be wonderful,” said Principal Shelly Blalock. “The outside space will be one where the kids are going to naturally interact and engage with one another.” 

Blalock has led Marshall Primary School for the past three years. Before Marshall, she was an instructional coach for teachers. In that role, she realized the need for educators to incorporate social and emotional learning into their teaching.

“I recognized in that role that we are missing the mark a little bit when it comes to social and emotional learning,” she said. “We can really teach the kids how to be proactive, finish a task, and have endurance, pride, and integrity.”

When COVID-19 was found in the United States last March causing the school to transition to virtual classes, Blalock noticed a change in student engagement in the classroom. She also believes that now, more than ever, SEL is needed because of the health crisis.

“I’m just not sure we, as a society, were aware of the need for SEL until the pandemic,” Blalock said.

Since August, Anderson School District II has allowed in-person instruction. Blalock and her  fellow teachers are taking advantage of in-person classes as it pertains to the development of their students.

“Just being able to allow the students the opportunity to get along, play games, and enjoy one another, it’s been great,” Blalock added.

According to Blalock, the academic growth follows, and is directly related to, the social and emotional wellbeing of her students.

“I just feel like the more we can emphasize the play and the social emotional piece of a child’s growth, then they are going to perform academically,” Blalock said. “If we don’t address the social and emotional needs, the students can be sitting in a classroom but they might not be absorbing anything that is being taught.

The community garden isn’t the only way that SEL is incorporated into the school. Marshall is working on creating an “SEL storyboard,” a story walk based on problem solving that students will be able to read on the school fence while they are at recess.

At Marshall Primary School, SEL will continue to be incorporated into all aspects of daily life–from PE to the garden to music class.

“It is important that they are seeing the positive impacts of SEL in all areas of the school.” Blalock said.

Through her leadership, she is planting the seeds of growth in her students.


ReZsaun Lewis

ReZsaun Lewis calls his young male students “men,” not “boys.”

Even though some of his mentees are as young as third graders, Lewis believes that they are learning to be men.

Lewis is the Executive Director at Lowcountry Youth Services (LYS), an organization based in the greater Charleston area that mentors children. LYS offers several developmental programs and strives to teach children  life, social, and problem solving skills.

One of the organizations that aligns closely with LYS is Social Emotional Learning for South Carolina (SEL4SC).  

Lewis is the Executive Director at Lowcountry Youth Services (LYS), an organization based in the greater Charleston area that mentors children. LYS offers several developmental programs and strives to teach children  life, social, and problem solving skills.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak last March, the importance of instilling the competencies is now more important than ever.

“The [pandemic] has made us more aware of dealing with our young men and making sure that we are allowing them the opportunity to be there for each other more than they normally do” Lewis said.


With children at home more than usual, Lewis says that students need extra support during these trying times.

“Many kids (in general) have toxic environments in their homes and increased exposure to that can be troublesome and traumatic at worst,” Lewis said. “It’s harder for us because we don’t have as much face-to-face interaction which makes things a whole lot easier when dealing with kids.”

Lewis, a Charleston native, has had experience in the military, as a barber, an insurance agent, and with a call center. Working with children was not something he considered doing until college.

“I had a professor ask me if I had ever considered working with kids,” Lewis said. “He talked me into giving it a try.”

Among other things, LYS focuses on the emotional and career development of their students. Lewis emphasizes the importance of choosing your own path rather than going down someone else’s path.”

“The whole world is at their disposal–[they] can do anything,” Lewis said.

One of the other lessons Lewis teaches his students is to find a job that they truly enjoy.

“There is nothing worse than getting up and going to your job every day and hating it,” Lewis said, referencing his own loathing of some of his jobs in his youth. “It is the worst feeling in the world.”

Career development is also one of the many aspects of SEL. By focusing on the five core competencies, students will benefit both academically and socially and will be prepared for whatever career they choose. .

“There is nothing in the SEL framework that we don’t address.” Lewis said.

“Literally everything we do is what SEL does.”

Sarah Gams

Sarah Gams reads out loud, word after word, in front of all of her students. And she loves it.

The 2021 South Carolina Teacher of the Year has adapted through the various changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the school system. Last March, when the virus first struck the state and the nation, she and other teachers scrambled to devise a curriculum that would be compatible with online learning.

“We were given one day to come up with lesson plans for all of our classes,” Gams said. “We were focused on the academic, trying to hit a target and stay on pace.”

For about a week, Gams’ students were engaged and showed up to class. After that, she mentioned the struggles of trying to simply locate them and make sure they were safe and healthy.

“Kids began to ‘ghost me’,” Gams said, referring to the term of disappearing without warning. “It was a feeling of panic because I wasn’t able to see them or meet them unless I called their home.”

Facing the difficult task of communicating with her students virtually, she also realized that during a time of crisis, the academic aspect of learning couldn’t happen until the social and emotional aspects was covered.

Enter SEL4SC. The nonprofit organization stresses the importance of acknowledging the extenuating circumstances that make it harder for students to learn.

Gams has adopted SEL as her official platform as S.C. Teacher of the Year.

“SEL is about strategies that teachers use that, among other things, relates to mindfulness and self-care,” Gams said. “Now more than ever, big policy and infrastructural decisions that schools make need to be made with SEL at the base. SEL is foundational to learning”

Throughout the school year, Gams will frequently read to her students. Sometimes it’s a book that is for class, but other times it is just for fun. At the beginning of the pandemic, Gams read Not a Box, a children’s book by Antoinette Portis.

“I encouraged all of my students to write about what they were doing at home,” Gams said. “No grade, no required length, no due date.”

Her students’ responses blew Gams away. She was impressed with the things that the students were focusing on that “wasn’t the pandemic.”

“I understood that students needed to connect with me, that we needed to rebuild our classroom community, before we could continue to have academic success,” Gams said.  “I was proud of my students for showing up to take their online AP exams in May, for turning in their work on Google Classroom. That was only possible by returning to our foundation: SEL.”

Gams worked with school psychologists and SEL4SC to develop a resolution that would the raise awareness of policymakers of the  challenges that students and teachers were facing due to the pandemic. In the next year, she hopes to see SEL implemented in the majority of schools in her area.

“Academics, behavior, social emotional health, mental health,” Gams continued.

“SEL addresses all of it.”