St. Mary’s taking students’ relationship temperature 

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SEL article

Article by Matthew Ehler at Grand Haven Tribune 
Photo by Heather Abram

The staff at St. Mary’s School in Spring Lake will be checking their doppler radar early and often this year. Their student radar, that is. 

Every morning at 8:15, the parochial school kicks off the day with what they call a “warm welcome” – a chance for staff to greet and strike conversations with students until the last bell rings for the day’s first class. It’s an opportunity for teachers to connect with students, particularly if their day has started “cloudy.” 

The student weather report is just a small sample of the school’s new creative social emotional learning (SEL) program, which prioritizes personal-level relationships, recognizes students’ feelings and needs, and supports growth in a time needed now more than ever, according to first-year student services educator Maureen Turner. 
Friendzy – a comprehensive, evidence-based social-emotional character development learning program designed to change school culture – will be immersed to St. Mary’s students in a six-unit period starting today, with five core competencies and skills sets implemented with Scripture. 

Establishing the new plan from kindergarten through eighth grade helps better prepare student transition periods and provides a solution to tackling the friendship challenges children face, Turner said. 

“Eighty-three percent of students increase their SEL skills like social skills, student attitudes toward school and reduces depression,” Turner said. “It’s important for our students to have these skills and traits when they transition into middle and high school.” 

According to Friendzy’s website, 75 percent of the words students use to describe how they feel at school are negative. That’s why recognizing those feelings early can be valuable in improving achievement and outcomes beyond school, Turner explained. 

“I think our students really know how to problem solve in a healthy way with self-control,” she said. “This can kind of gauge where students are functioning and open up the conversation about SEL.”
Friendzy’s five core competencies are: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social awareness and relationship skills. 

It’s also theme-based, which is tied within each unit through Scripture and includes themes: we need each other, love at all times, you first, teamwork makes the dreamwork, watch my words and friends forgive. 

Turner also noted a family connection to the program, which will start student conversations at home at the beginning and end of each unit. Parent letters were sent home with further explanation to support Friendzy. 

“As a team, we looked at how we could further support students’ social-emotional learning growth – and right now, it’s in need of a bit of repair,” said Turner, who has been teaching in various roles throughout West Michigan for more than a decade. “With my background in emotional impairments, I helped push for this program, and this year, it’s all about building personal relationships (and) making sure we’re setting a tone to have a healthy SEL school year because, as a society, it seems to be taking a dip right now.” 

St. Mary’s School will designate every Friday as “Friday Frenzy,” which will task students to complete specific lessons. A pre- and post-assessment is provided by the program, as things will begin to wrap up in the middle of May. 

So far, students have shown positive responses from their daily weather checks, according to Turner. Most importantly, though, the program will get back to establishing strong connections throughout the school – something she says has been put in the backseat over the past few years. “Just to get more on a personal level,” Turner said, “that’s what we’re forgetting.” 

To learn more about Friendzy, visit its website at