NMPED launches website to provide social, emotional learning resources

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SANTA FE, N.M. – The New Mexico Public Education Department is launching a new lesson focused on students’ mental well-being.

The program is "New Mexico Cares", an online portal launched earlier this month. The portal has social and emotional learning resources, including lessons on managing time wisely, dealing with bullies, improving confidence and even making new friends.

"We’re going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs," NMPED Behavioral Health Coordinator Leslie Kelly said. "People need to have food, safety, water – just the basic needs met – and then some emotional safety and comfort before learning can even take place."

According to experts, these skills are rarely taught but play a huge role in everyone’s lives.

"There are some long-term studies that young people that possess these skills – or have some competency in these skills – are less likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system and are less likely to require subsidized housing and will have greater job satisfaction," Kelly stated.

Kelly’s Behavioral Health Coordinator position is a new role that was in the works before the pandemic. She believes it will be crucial for students and teachers in the future.

"Everyone’s experienced some level of trauma," Kelly said. "Whether it’s intense or low-grade, we all have, and I think we need to acknowledge that. Until we do that, we’re not creating conditions for learning because we’re not creating safe and supportive environments for everybody."

The portal also contains resources for teachers, in addition to resources for students.

"We talk about the kids all the time and they’re very important, but the kids are in the care of the adults," Kelly said. "When I did my university work and was trained as a teacher – and even today – that social emotional learning is not something that’s talked about. You teach content, you have some behavioral management skills but we don’t talk about how important connection is."

In the end, the goal is to ensure students leave school better than they were before.

"Instead of putting all our time and energy like we tend to do in reaction, we’re able to build some sort of foundation so that school is a safe and supportive learning environment where everybody feels like they can be engaged and get along," Kelly said.