SEL to Me

WINNING ENTRY: Creating a School Where Students Soar

March 4, 2024
Lori Lidofsky, LCSW
Student Assistance Specialist
WINNING ENTRY: Creating a School Where Students Soar

To celebrate SEL Week, we invited you—students, parents, teachers, counselors, school and district administrators, and community leaders—to share your SEL story. Of the many excellent entries we received, Lori, a student assistance specialist in New Jersey, was voted the winner by our readers. You can view all 10 finalists here.

The social and emotional learning (SEL) explosion at School One wasn’t a hard “sel” for School One Elementary principal Justin Fiory. He has always believed in the academic and overall benefits that come with more SEL at school. Historically, it was hard to find the support and resources to emphasize it more. In 2020, I joined the team as a full-time student assistance specialist, allowing for this need to be strengthened through our collaboration. Now in 2024, SEL is woven into the fabric of being a School One Cardinal. 

But how did we get here? To a place where the students all use a common language to understand and promote SEL as a community? Where “today’s students” become “tomorrow’s leaders” with a strong SEL foundation?

Core Values

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Like most progress, it started with assessing and identifying the need. It was clear to both of us that the addition of shared core values and emotional language throughout the building could be instrumental in improving behavior, connection, and performance. 

Enter the “Soaring with School One P.R.I.D.E.” Program. The  acronym “P.R.I.D.E.” stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Empathy. Now at School One, all students know what these words mean, what it looks like to demonstrate these values in any setting, and how to encourage them in others. 

When our students demonstrate these core values, they are publicly celebrated by receiving a “Cardinal Card,” which anyone can nominate them for. Assemblies are held throughout the year to dive deeper into our understanding of these characteristics, and weekly morning meetings are dedicated to our shared core values. Students now leave School One Elementary with a deep understanding and drive to model these values in middle school and beyond. We often hear how alumni feel that Cardinal “P.R.I.D.E” as they navigate home and school life. 

Understanding “Big Feelings” 

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“Big feelings” is another term that many of our students now understand and use appropriately. Through counseling, social skills, and an SEL curriculum (with units on growth mindset and goal-setting, emotion management, empathy and kindness, bullying, and problem-solving) the students are constantly learning that it’s okay to have “big feelings”—and how to appropriately manage them.


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As our principal, Fiory also sought to make School One a community that values and emphasizes SEL by starting with today’s leaders—the teachers. He gave every staff member a book about how to use positive thinking in their professional and private lives to achieve success. 

In staff meetings, he models, references, and continues to build upon the skills outlined in the book to help us proceed with a positive and supportive school culture. The teachers are real-life models of how students can use SEL skills now and when they are future educators, politicians, scientists, business owners, or in any career path they choose.

Leaders of Tomorrow

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One of my favorite ways we encourage School One students to be SEL leaders of tomorrow is the Kids Care Club. This club meets to brainstorm ways to spread kindness and work on various projects. They sponsor donations and collections such as “Share-a-Sandwich,” “We Care Kits,” and “The Supper Bowl” to give back to the local community and families in need. It brings the children and the community together to show the impact of being caring and kind people. This club gives the students a foundation of charity and giving back that they carry with them well into adulthood. 

This brings us to the present—where, in the spirit of International SEL Day 2024’s theme “Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Leaders,” School One will be hosting an “SEL Day Meets Career Day.” Adults from the community will visit our students and share how they used their social and emotional skills to overcome challenges in their careers and personal lives to achieve success. They will discuss the importance of believing you can always grow, learn, and improve. 

School One Elementary is a living and breathing example of all the good that can come from SEL. The evolution of SEL at School One will support our students to soar into all future endeavors with the social and emotional knowledge and skills to thrive. 

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Lori Lidofsky is the student assistance specialist at School One Elementary in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and a licensed clinical social worker. She has always been passionate about empowering children through social and emotional skill-building. She grew up in New York City and attended University at Albany for her bachelor’s degree and Fordham University for her master’s degree. She currently resides in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, with her husband, daughter, and son.

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Aline Melo Gonzalez

I can’t thank her enough for all the emotional support that she gives to my son. We are going through a challenging process on a serious treatment for my son’s diagnosis (DMDD), and Mrs. Lidofsky is the most import support for him at school. Her love and dedication for him makes him feel safe and welcome. She brings me peace of mind knowing that my son has the best support that he could have at school. Mrs. Lidofsky is always available to listen, comfort, and give emotional support not only for my son, but to the parents and everyone at the school. I am very thankful that my son has Mrs. Lidofsky as a student assistant , and that he goes to this amazing school that appreciates Mrs. Lidofsky’s wonderful work. Congratulations Mrs. Lidofsky for you amazing work 💚

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savita vaidya

Many Congratulations @ Lori Lidofsky.

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Susan Lindenbaum

Lori Lidofsky is an amazing counselor and the best!

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Claudia Torzewski

This is a great article!
If children learn to be all what you mention here in a young aged they will have a better world!
I always say if something does not go the way you wanted look at the positive side of things and that will change your perspective.

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Marcelo Stigliano

It is amazing to see how passionate Mr. Fiory, Mrs. Lidofsky and all School One staff are in providing the best environment for our kids. The mission is clear and goes way beyond academics – it is about helping these kids, working hand in hand with parents, to become great human beings with strong SEL foundation and values.

PRIDE are indeed the most important values a person can have. We need to spread this as much as we can. Certainly this values can change the world.

I have a 5 years old girl who comes from school talking to us about Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Diversity, and Empathy. I also have a 11 years old girl that left School One with a deep understanding of these values and she knows that she needs to be a role model and inspire her little sister and others.

I dare to say that this great initiative from School One should be replicated to all schools of our district. Why not?

Congratulations School One for the outstanding work you do! Hats off to you!

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Vince Rampino

Lori is my friend and so I know how compassionate, thoughtful and smart she is. She is great mom and a completely family oriented.

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Reeva Gassman

Teaching social emotional intelligence is so important in this complicated world we live in.

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Susan Lindenbaum

Lori Lidofsky is truly amazing and goes the extra yard one hundred times over. She is so deserving of this recognition.

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Laura Basile

Great job!

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