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Team members: Top row (l-r): Sheila Quinn, Mike Young
Bottom row (l-r): Karen Buffalo, Debbie Jones, Gregory McCord,
Chris Hardy, Sharon Ray, Kelvin Washington

In an effort to initiate critical dialog in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest surrounding racial injustice, the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for S.C. (SEL4SC), in partnership with the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative 2020 Class (DLI) is launching an initiative to help communities come together to support each other in crisis.

Recognizing the importance of social emotional learning, this years’ class chose to replicate #345, a school-based initiative developed by their classmate.  Marlboro County School Superintendent, Dr. Gregory McCord, created #345 to “show students they are loved, cared for and someone is there to support them. #345 represents phrases of positive affirmation: (3 words) I love you, (4 words) I care about you, and (5 words) I am here for you. Or simply #345.” The initiative has since been embraced by the entire community. 

Grounded in social-emotional learning (SEL) practices, #345 emphasizes the need for SEL competencies to help children and adults address adversity. Social-Emotional Learning is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. SEL skills include the ability to feel and show empathy, respect, appreciating differences, identifying and solving problems, analyzing situations, reflection, communicating clearly, listening, cooperation, resisting negative pressure, resolving conflicts, and supporting one another.

Through her work with the 2020 DLI Class, Debbie Jones saw that #345 not only helped to build relationships and build safe schools, but it helped to strengthen a rural community and build trust. In light of our current circumstances she realized that SEL is a critical need for all children and families and vowed to further the work her DLI class had begun. She has recently joined SEL4SC as Executive Director and in that capacity will help her classmates expand #345 statewide. Debbie shared “In light of COVID-19 and the tragic death of George Floyd I have realized that SEL is an essential need for our teachers, schools, children, families, and communities. We have all experienced isolation, stress, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and loss, all of which can have negative impacts on physical, social and emotional well-being but especially for those communities with limited resources and no broadband access. At a time when our teachers, students, families and communities need support, hearing one of these 3 phrases could set the stage for critical open dialog.”

Rigorous studies of SEL in schools have demonstrated that students receiving quality SEL instruction had reduced emotional distress: fewer reports of student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal. Stress, fear and anxiety interfere with a child’s ability to learn and can negatively impact test scores and academic performance as well as their physical health.

SEL4SC and the Riley Institute DLI Class will mobilize schools, parents’ organizations and communities around #345 as a tool for positive affirmation, initiating difficult conversations and addressing the impact of recent events.

The Sumter Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, led by President/CEO Chris Hardy, another DLI team member, has adapted #345. “The #345 message we believe is comprehensive across all communities. The Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce’s Education Council was presented the #345 message and how it could build a bond within the community. Although it is a great message for Education, we feel it encompasses everything we want to say within our community. We plan to share it with the other divisions of our organization as well.”