School launches Social Emotional Learning & Wellness program

Students at Baggett Elementary in Norcross are part of a new program to increase social and emotional learning.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Students at Baggett Elementary in Norcross are part of a new program to increase social and emotional learning.

Mitch Green is in his third year as principal of Baggett Elementary – some of the toughest years for educators following COVID lockdowns, online classes and schedule upheaval. He’s not surprised that the impact of such stresses is playing out in his Norcross school.

“We’ve seen a sharp uptick in concerning behaviors among our children, particularly with interpersonal behaviors,” he said. “We assume there’s a connection coming out of the pandemic and coming back to school. Many students have not been socialized in a while, and there have been negative ramifications to both health and safety.”

The issues aren’t exclusive to Baggett, Green said, but he and his staff agreed they needed to be addressed.

“We tracked our behavioral data and saw an uptick, so we knew we needed to do something,” he said.

Green implemented a number of changes, including adjusting the master schedule so certain grades weren’t overlapping others in the cafeteria, changing transition times between classes and shifting from team teaching to individual teachers with smaller classes. Last spring, the school launched a pilot program centered around the book “Freeing Freddie the Dreamweaver” that came with a curriculum, games, songs and videos designed to help students recognize and understand their emotional health.

“We were intent on teaching behaviors and helping students understand their own emotions and the impacts they have on others,” said Green. “By layering ‘Freeing Freddie’ on top of the structural changes we made, we had the support systems and teaching in place to make a difference.”

This fall, 1,041 students in 45 homerooms from pre-K through fifth grades began lessons from the program that was designed by Kim Dobrin of the Midtown-based Free the Mind Co. Dobrin’s son, Brent Feinberg, wrote the book to help youngsters handle their emotions.

“No one teaches kids how to navigate the internal world so they can succeed in the external world,” Dobrin said. “Because there was such a demand, we built out this program that’s also online so it can be self-led or used at home. At Baggett, it’s integrated across the entire school, and all the teachers can refer back to the lessons.”

Green explored options before launching the “Freeing Freddie” initiative and didn’t find anything comparable. “When you check with other schools and districts, they’re generating their own programs. This one aligned with the counseling and support efforts we wanted to accomplish, and it’s rooted in a great piece of literature.”

Though the school year is only a few months old, Green is seeing significant changes in student behavior.

“They’re connecting better with each other, and we’re building better classroom communities,” he said. “Most elementary schools have an ‘opportunity room’ where students can reflect on the choices they made, and we’re having to use that less and less. We have fewer needs to put consequences in place for students.”

Green also scaled lessons back from three times a week to just once.

“Now we do ‘Free Freddie Fridays,’” he said. “We’re focused not only on academic preparation but on stressing how to be a supportive community.”

Information about Baggett Elementary is online at

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