In an effort to carry consistent social emotional learning through students’ educational careers, Chagrin schools is looking to implement a new curriculum to fill identified gaps.

Director of Pupil Services Jennifer Bencko presented the proposed Fly Five during the board’s regular Aug. 11 meeting last week, of which the board approved a first reading. The second reading and implementation of the proposed social emotional learning, or SEL, curriculum will be considered at their next regular meeting on Sept. 1.

She said the district identified gaps in their tier one SEL curricula to students. The schools provide support for teachers in implementing SEL in their classrooms, she explained, but the district does not currently have a formal curriculum in place that directly targets students with SEL best practices.

With implementing a continuous program like Fly Five, that will grow with students from elementary school through middle school, this should provide students with the tools and skills they need for SEL by the time they reach high school and graduate.

District Treasurer Ashley Brudno said the cost of Fly Five is a flat fee of $11,000.

“As a district, we’re committed to making sure that children graduate with the academic and social skills that they need to be successful,” Mrs. Bencko said. “In the last several years, mental health and mental wellness have gotten more and more attention, especially as we’re in the pandemic. It is more important now than ever to talk about these issues and make sure that we’re meeting the needs of all students.”

Looking at the SEL side of their multi-tiered system of support, or MTSS, the district addressed mental and emotional health and wellness needs of students through different methods of programming and curricula.

For tiers two and three, students who need additional intervention or special education students, the district has programs like lunch bunches, new student groups, small group counseling and short-term interventions, as well as special education and mental health services and the ChagrinCares Team.

For tier one students, those who are mostly on track in their SEL skills or who do not require special intervention, the district utilizes their standard health curriculum. Mrs. Bencko said this “checks a lot of those boxes” for SEL, in addition to programming like stress breaks during state testing, student-led clubs, events like Kindness Week or Start with Hello and more.

For the last 17 years, she said the district has implemented the Responsive Classroom as part of their SEL curriculum, starting at Gurney Elementary School, from the Center for Responsive Schools.

“A lot of Responsive Classroom is about supporting teachers on how to support students,” she said.

As the schools compared Responsive Classroom to the state requirements to teach SEL, she said they realized it only met half of the district’s needs.

“Responsive Classroom is teaching teachers; we weren’t really teaching students SEL skills explicitly” through this curriculum, she said. With Responsive Classroom teaching educators to implement SEL in the classroom, she said the district is working to fill the tier one gap of teaching students directly through the Fly Five curriculum.

The Fly Five curriculum implements five core values of CARES, cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy and self-control.

“So, while responsive classroom has been hugely successful, and while we have a lot of teaching already in place, we thought that the Fly Five curriculum would be that perfect supplement,” Mrs. Bencko said.

The curriculum is taught through interactions with nine characters who grow with the students.

“One thing that was important to us was to make sure that the interface of whatever curriculum we chose was relatable to our students, so we wanted it to be current, we wanted it to be relevant, we want it to have an interface that we thought would be engaging with our students, and we felt that Fly Five met that,” she said.

“Each of these characters come with diverse backgrounds, family makeups and experiences,” she said. “I believe all children can see different parts of themselves through different parts of all these characters.”

The community can learn more about these Fly Five characters and the curriculum at

Mrs. Bencko said the district looks at recommending a new curriculum with “careful consideration,” explaining that selecting Fly Five was slightly challenging because it is a new curriculum that was officially released earlier this summer.

“While we couldn’t buy a pilot lesson and implement it in a classroom to truly try it out, we did have the opportunity to interact with the materials, to attend webinars that talked about the research-based understandings of the program [and] we had sample lesson plans that we were able to try in small groups,” she said.

“We got a lot of positive feedback from the teachers and counselors who interacted with this material,” she said, explaining that they’ve had information sharing sessions with Fly Five over the course of the year, “enough that it gives us confidence that while there are other SEL programs on the market, we felt like Fly Five was a really good complement to what we’re already doing and definitely filled some gaps.”

Sam joined the Times in 2019 and covers several communities and schools in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County. She also oversees the features/community events and the website. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.

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