How SEL Dallas Reads Has Created Connections During a Difficult Year

When the COVID-19 pandemic began disrupting our daily lives last year, the SEL Dallas team knew how critical it would be to continue emphasizing social and emotional learning and the importance of literacy. And as students and educators alike began adapting to remote learning and online programming, SEL Dallas Reads was created to promote engagement and connection.

In the 13 months since, our weekly virtual book club reached youth in Dallas ISD and across the county. This platform has given us the opportunity to use books to explore the pandemic’s enormous effect on students, from having conversations about social distancing and being away from friends to addressing how to manage big emotions and help others during this difficult time. 

For SEL Specialist Christina Kelso, it all ties into Rudine Sims Bishop’s idea of how books can be mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors for youth. “They’re mirrors to reflect their experiences, windows into other viewpoints and sliding glass doors to experience new worlds,” Kelso said. 

Since SEL Dallas Reads began, we’ve continued to adapt our programming as needed to reflect our changing world and ensure we’re providing an engaging, exciting experience. In January, we began partnering with Dallas ISD Library and Media Services to expand the reach of even more students. Now, during each week’s meeting, a Dallas ISD librarian reads aloud from a book that’s been carefully selected to spark engagement.

SEL Dallas Reads is open to all Dallas ISD students, and programming is split into two recommended grade levels: K-2 and 3-5. And because the program is integrated with Sora, Dallas ISD’s e-book library, which students can access for free, attendees have access to the books being read.

For the younger age group, each session revolves around a book selected from SEL Dallas’s Out of School Time (OST) Curriculum Guide, which consists of 16 thematic units that enhance SEL understanding and acquisition. Along with other skill-building activities, each unit features literacy connections: books that highlight the unit theme and can spark a conversation surrounding it. 

When choosing books for the OST Guide, Kelso said the focus was on highlighting titles that reflected and represented Dallas ISD’s students, mirrored their experiences, and featured high-quality stories and illustrations. An overarching theme of social justice is also present throughout the curriculum. 

Two titles read earlier this month, Salt in His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream and Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans, focused on problem-solving — the theme of Unit 12 in the curriculum guide. 

“When a kid is really in a crisis, you can’t teach them a lesson — you can’t say, ‘Oh, you’re having a problem; you should learn problem-solving skills,’” Kelso said. “But when kids are in that calm, regulated state after reading, they’re more able to relate the story back to their own lives, and they’re better able to reflect and learn.”

Older students attending the 3-5 book club follow a chapter book, chosen by Dallas ISD librarians, across multiple sessions.

Interested in joining the weekly fun? Our K-2 book club is held every Tuesday at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Each session lasts approximately 30 minutes, and you can sign up here. Our 3-5 book club meets on Thursdays from 4–5 p.m. Sign up here to dive into the latest read: I Survived the Hindenburg Disaster, 1937.

We hope to see you soon!