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District holds conference on social and emotional intelligence

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Charlotte Pope

Philadelphia’s high school students were introduced to new approaches to conflict resolution last week at a conference hosted by the School District of Philadelphia’s Chief Academic Office.

Held at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the conference was designed as a series of workshops to promote social and emotional intelligence.

“Everyone is talking about anti-bullying, when in reality, if we teach our kids social-emotional intelligence they won’t have a problem with bullying,” said Benjamin Wright, assistant superintendent for alternative education and one of the conference organizers.

A combined effort from the District and a confederation of youth groups, the conference covered topics ranging from decision-making and financial intelligence, to relationships, motivation, and positive image shaping.

“At the end of the day, our objective is for each kid to walk away from here knowing that life is 10 percent of what happens to them and 90 percent how they deal with it,” Wright said. “We want these kids to define life a little bit differently than they’ve been defining life.”

In attendance were teachers and students from accelerated and transition schools, six comprehensive high schools, and a dozen college representatives to offer advice to those looking for their next steps beyond high school.

Ayanna Gregory, an educator and motivational speaker, opened the conference by asking the crowd, “Who has ever felt different?” Many raised their hands.

“I don’t want to teach young people, I want them to teach themselves,” Gregory said. “I want them to recognize what’s already there, that there is nothing I can give them that they don’t already have.”

Gregory led a workshop on “Empowering the Goddess,” challenging participants to redefine their standards of womanhood and encouraging girls in the audience to join her in singing positive affirmations.

“The goal for the day was to urge these young people to think about the things that they don’t normally think about. I want to fill in those voids, to talk about the things that are not being talked about. Yes, people talk about self-esteem. Yes, people say, ‘love yourself,’ but it is unfair to tell someone to love themselves if they don’t have the tools,” Gregory said.

Samantha Crocker, a community representative for Lincoln Technical Institute, was invited to talk about the offerings of a technical institute as an option after graduation. Crocker said her goal was to inform the students of the admissions process and to set up potential school tours.

The conference was described by Assistant Superintendent Wright as a kick-off to introduce everyone to a different approach to fight bullying. The idea, he said, was to make sure that children could take the lessons back to their schools.

“We are going to see how people respond to this conference. If we can get kids to understand the definition of life, and they can apply it every day, we’ll have it again.”

Charlotte Pope is an intern at the Notebook.