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Las Vegas children learn empathy, conflict resolution in new class

Kenneth Divich Elementary School
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Kenneth Divich Elementary School

The divisions between people these days are evident everywhere, not just on social media. You see the lack of empathy in others when you drive. You see anger on the streets. Some write it off as human nature, something that can’t be changed; you’re either a good person or you’re destined to be angry.

Can good traits, like empathy, consideration and respect, be taught? 

An elementary school is helping kids understand these concepts by organizing an entire class that focuses on them. Social emotional learning was introduced last fall at Kenneth Divich Elementary School in northwest Las Vegas. Some of the goals including helping students recognize and handle emotions, setting and achieving goals, making responsible decisions and showing empathy to others.

Principal Ronald Kamman says results from a survey showed several students were dealing with challenging feelings or feeling positive emotions. Some kids were still struggling with the effects of the pandemic and not seeing friends or teachers for several months. 

"With the data in front of us and what our staff was observing, we knew we needed to do something to support our students in how they're feeling," he said. This led to the creation of the social emotional learning class, which is now a "special" the students take along with library, physical education, etc.

The class is taught by Leah Furuto and it uses the Harmony SEL curriculum. It is taught to all grades at Kenneth Divich Elementary. The class is split into five major topics: diversity, emotions, communications, problem solving and peer relationships.

"This curriculum provides learning, resources, tools and strategies to build trust, encourage problem solving, and having that positive learning environment," said Furuto.

"Mrs. Furuto has taken this curriculum after school had already started and she just ran with it," Kamman said. "She collaborates with our two school counselors, the lessons are engaging and fun and the students are walking away with something new each time they see Mrs. Furuto."

The class isn't meant to replace important life lessons kids learn from their families. Parents can also sign up for Harmony SEL program on their own at no cost.

"It's really cool, because we can connect this to home, with what we're doing at school. Parents have those activities they can look at and apply a connection from home to school, then school to home," explained Furuto.

Eight-year-old Kaden Kidman is one of the students taking the class. One of his biggest takeaways is the importance of making friends with people who are different.

"If you just make friends with someone just like you, you might never change," he said.

"I always make sure they have these discussions with their friends. We always have these discussions as a group, with partners, so they're able to recognize each other's similarities and differences as well," Furuto said. "Every time they come to SEL, they're not in the same group. They get to socialize with different classmates, so that kind of builds their confidence."

"When students walk around with more confidence in their abilities within themselves, I do think that has a direct impact on academic achievement," Kamman said. "We still have a long way to go based on not being in school as long as we were. But our teachers are working very hard every day to ensure our students are successful in having those academic successes."

Ronald Kamman, principal, Kenneth Divich Elementary School; Leah Furuto, teacher, Kenneth Divich Elementary School; Kaden Kidman, second grader, Kenneth Divich Elementary School

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Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.