Community Education

When Americans think of subjects taught in the classroom, many might think of reading, math, social studies, or maybe art or music.

But some argue, the most important subject is social-emotional learning. 

“Social-emotional learning really lays the foundation to me for all learning,” Global Game Changers chief program and curriculum officer Anne Walker told WFPL News. “It gives students the tools they need to regulate and understand and deal with their emotions so that they come to school ready to learn,” Walker said.

Global Game Changers is a Louisville-based nonprofit focused on teaching students social-emotional skills, and using philanthropy to do it. 

Walker said students may be facing more intense social-emotional challenges right now because of the coronavirus pandemic. Lots of emotions are coming up: anxiety, anger, sadness. Philanthropy, like volunteering, Walker said, can help children understand that they do have power to make change. One of the activities the group offers is making face-masks for people experiencing homelessness. Students can find a simple pattern online, and all they need is a t-shirt and scissors.

“It provides them with not only that self confidence and self value to make a difference for something that’s impacting them; it also provides them an opportunity to deal with something in a realistic way that they are confronting on a day to day basis personally,” she said.

Third-grader Emerson Gallusser has made lots of masks using the Global Game Changers pattern. She said it makes her feel good knowing that she’s helping people stay healthy. She worries about how difficult it might be for someone who is homeless to find a clean mask.

“Because they might not have a lot of money, and they might not be able to get to a store,” she said.

Emerson’s mom, Tracy Hurtgen, is an educator for Global Game Changers. She said Emerson is not only helping others, she’s learning important skills, like leadership and confidence, and a “growth mindset,” or a belief that one is capable of learning and growing. Studies show students with a stronger growth mindset perform better in school, and can overcome barriers like poverty.

“I don’t think that kids realize it right away,” Hurgen said about progress made on social-emotional skills. For Emerson, “it’s hard for her to find the words to describe it,” Hurtgen said.

But Hurtgen said she’s seen the progress. She’s watched her daughter teach people how to make the masks. Emerson has made them for the Salvation Army and for family members who didn’t want to buy them. And Hurtgen has seen Emerson power through some disappointments when the masks don’t turn out quite right. Like one night a few weeks back.

“I forgot the pattern,” Emerson explained.

But then, she tried again, and made them correctly. Hurtgen said she can tell her daughter is learning that she can make a difference.

“Whether she knows that it’s happening or not, like, it’s definitely happening,” she said.

So far, students have made more than 4,000 masks for the Salvation Army.

You can find the mask pattern at GlobalGameChangers.org. Finished masks can be dropped off or delivered to the Salvation Army at 911 S. Brook Street, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.