Dare County educator discusses the ABC’s of SEL

By on January 14, 2023

Roberts addresses social and emotional learning at LWV event

Reida Roberts noted that the COVID pandemic had increased the politicization of some school issues. (Photo credit: Corinne Saunders)

The “umbrella term” of social and emotional learning (SEL) runs the gamut from teaching children to take turns on a swing to teaching adolescents about body odor to assisting a child in crisis, the Dare County Schools’ director of exceptional children’s services told a gathering on Jan. 13.

Dr. Reida Roberts, who came to Dare County in 2019 from Bladen County Schools in southeastern North Carolina, spoke at the “Lunch and Learn” event hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Dare County. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

In the polarizing battle over school curricula that has developed in recent years, SEL has become a target for some parents and politicians who assert they want more control over that curricula.

Roberts alluded to that dynamic by noting that “Prior to COVID and all of the politicized energy that’s been put out there, social and emotional learning is just a blanket term that meant anything you do that’s non-academic to help kids in their emotional well-being.”

Roberts told about two dozen attendees at 3 Tequilas Mexican Restaurant that she gave nearly the same presentation publicly at the Dare County Schools Board of Education meeting on June 8, 2021. Every school district in the state had to submit its “mental health plan” that had been approved by its respective school board by July 2021 to the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Roberts said the Dare County Board of Education considered and voted on its plan at the same meeting as her presentation.

Roberts explained how the school system uses a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) to address the needs of “the whole child,” from their attendance to their academics to their behavior, “before they reach a crisis level.”

Every student is considered Tier 1 and receives some wellness instruction at the elementary school level. Tier 2 students may need a daily check-in by the guidance counselor. Tier 3 students may need a referral to special education or outside mental health support.

“Our elementary schools are really good about having wellness lessons,” Roberts said. “They have a calendar of wellness lessons that they wrote themselves based on what they think the kids need: How to play nicely on the playground; how to take a breath when you’re feeling angry—those types of things.”

Guidance counselors pull resources and teach whole classes on a rotating schedule, which could be weekly or every other week, Roberts said, noting this instruction is “probably more basic than what people imagine.”

After elementary school, she said students don’t receive regular wellness lessons except as part of health and physical education in high school.

Roberts said that to address higher-level social and emotional student needs, the school system relies on help from outside agencies. After getting parents’ permission, students can be referred out, with some agencies coming to campus to provide services during the school day.

“We’re not designed to be a high-level mental health provider, and so we rely on the experts for that,” she said. “We have a number of memorandums of understanding with outside agencies.”

These agencies include PORT Health Services; Integrated Family Services; Pathways to Life, Inc.; Getting Ready, Inc. (day treatment); and the Dare County Collaborative on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, of which the school system is a part.

The day treatment program—a dedicated space in First Flight High School last year where students could get higher-level help from a psychologist—was free to the school system, as it was funded by Trillium, Roberts said. The space still exists, but the psychologist position remains unfilled at present.

Similarly, the school system secured funding for five school psychologists, but has only been able to hire three to date. Roberts noted that a school psychologist staffing shortage extends to the state and national level.

During her presentation, Roberts took questions from attendees, including one from LWV Vice President Ginger Walters who asked, “Why is what you’ve spoken about today a political issue?”

“During COVID, our country just became more polarized than ever,” and “I think some of that energy has carried over,” she responded. She added that some packaged SEL curriculums “have equity strands,” that address social justice and racial equity, which some people view as politicized curriculum. She stated that Dare County never adopted any packaged SEL curriculum, adding that, “To me the equity strand is more of a curriculum need. That’s another department. It’s an important conversation, but one I haven’t felt the need to weigh in on in my work.”

LWV President Laura Singletary said the topic for this event came out of a summer brainstorming session where their members discussed what may be of interest. While most of the organization’s work centers on voter registration efforts, standing committees generally organize one learning event per committee topic each year, including their education committee.

“The whole point of this is to help us understand, [and] help us learn what these policies are in the schools,” Singletary said.


  • Jorge Diaz

    Another failed program taught to kids, school budgets increase every year, and education quality decreases. If public education were a business, it would be bankrupted.

    Saturday, Jan 14 @ 2:21 pm
  • lucidopoli

    The meeting was very informative. I encourage Jorge Diaz and. others who are critical to join the LWV and come to the meetings. If they do not want to join, the informational lunches just require you RSVP so the restaurant knows how. many to expect.

    Addressing the emotional well-being of our children is the first and best step to raising healthy, educated citizens.

    Sunday, Jan 15 @ 10:10 am
  • Susan Smith

    Are these things really happening in the school system? I truly feel they are not happening so no need to hire more and spend money on resources if the weekly and biweekly lessons are not happening. We don’t make enough referrals to the outside agencies and we don’t have enough communication between the two.

    Sunday, Jan 15 @ 10:11 am
  • Jeff Walker

    SEL is like three fake mass panics ago, even before cross dressers in the girls bathrooms and face masks making baby Jesus cry. The corporations that come up with all these scares so the rubes will stay angry and vote for more tax cuts for billionaires have long since moved on to the next set of boogeymen to be outraged over. If the point is to keep voters informed that’s a necessary part of the conversation.

    Sunday, Jan 15 @ 10:52 pm
  • Jesse Greene

    I have been curious about SEL and how it’s incorporated into the curriculum so thanks for the very informative article. I’m glad to see that emotional/social issues are being addressed in the school system. It’s so important, even more so these days. It’s like an early intervention program for mental health, a way of identifying and managing small problems before they become big problems. Children spend so much of their lives in school. What better place to identify and help them manage their emotional/social needs?

    Monday, Jan 16 @ 7:45 am
  • Former Student

    If you haven’t been a student in the dare county system in the past even 5 years you have no room to talk. I’ve personally witnessed suicides, suicide attempts, overdoses, public mental health crisis, fights, harassment, outright racism, etc. A lot of parents don’t know what their kids are going through on the daily at public schools, whether or not they want to admit it.

    Monday, Jan 16 @ 9:37 am
  • Shelly

    Social emotional learning will and should take place in schools, as it always has, whether the SEL buzzword is attached or not. All it really is is the way in which children, adolescents, and adults learn skills to support healthy development and relationships. The skills, including self- awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and responsible decision-making are essential to being good humans and, academically-speaking, those competent in these skills are better learners.

    Monday, Jan 16 @ 11:04 am
  • Sandflea

    @ Jeff Walker… I completely agree with you.
    When I was growing up, we didn’t have all of the krap that goes on today. Maybe a suicide or two, but nothing like today. If a couple kids got mad they’d go punch it out… get a bloody lip or nose; then be playing outside with each other that night. Nobody got shot or stabbed. Kids are soft and conditioned to be victims now. Nothing is ever the poor victims fault; always someone else’s fault. Some kid gets their feelings hurt, their parents get sued and need 8 weeks of therapy; maybe even their own special safe space in school. Seems nobody can deal with anything anymore.
    We played outside and did things and used our imaginations; the way our bodies and brains were designed to be used. Maybe put down the cellphones and vidiot games and go outside and do something. Now, get off of my grass

    Monday, Jan 16 @ 2:50 pm
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

    You are the ultimate “get off my grass,” guy, Sandflea. No doubt about that.

    Monday, Jan 16 @ 5:11 pm
  • Currituck

    Kudos to the league for having this forum. The worst is usually done in the cover of darkness.

    My background has trained me to look for results whenever money is being allocated. How are the results of SEL measured? How will we know it is providing a reasonable return on the investment. Are there better ways to spend this money? People spending other people’s money seldom ask these questions.

    The church and engaged parents (plural) have a very successful track record. The return on investment is stellar.


    Tuesday, Jan 17 @ 5:52 am
  • resident

    Shelly said it perfectly. The children should always be the priority especially in the formative years. Unfortunately, some children do not receive some of these important lessons and information in their homes. To some of the comments on here, this is not about politics. Retrain your brains to think about humanity instead of politics, what you think you deserve, how everything affects you or what your experiences were. a fight on the playground? Really? What about kids bringing guns to school and the fatalities that have occurred? Kids are soft and conditioned to be victims? maybe some children are victims of their upbringing, such as drugs , violence in the home, lack of guidance. affection etc. Get your head out of the sand and have a little compassion and educate yourself . Sorry to rant but every child deserves these skills and so much more.

    Wednesday, Jan 18 @ 2:51 pm