Building Bulldogs program integrates social-emotional learning at Burbank High School

(Photo by Lisa Paredes)

Faculty members and students at Burbank High School work together to strengthen the curriculum on campus through their Building Bulldogs program.

This social-emotional learning model was pioneered by BHS Director Dr Thomas Crowther, who asked the physical education department to build a system to meet the needs of students during the pandemic.

Alli McKain, BHS athletic director and chair of the physical education department, who had no prior experience with social-emotional learning, then conducted research and consulted with Crowther and BHS adviser Gabby Sharaga. The three have since implemented the beneficial new academic program with the help of other physical education counselors and instructors. Additionally, Ellya Asatryan, a first-year student at BHS, also helped promote the program for herself and her classmates.

McKain has a history of participating in sports, which she says led her to feel “a sense of belonging, of strength in [her] identity as an athlete and a connection with [her] school community. When creating Building Bulldogs, she wanted to elicit similar feelings in BHS students.

Counselor Gabby Sharaga and Coach Mark Meredith teach the Burbank High School football team a lesson in building Bulldogs titled “I Love All My Bulldogs”. (photo courtesy of Alli McKain)

The resulting learning system has been included in the BHS academic curriculum for ninth graders and student-athletes in all sports since resuming in-person learning in fall 2021. Building Bulldogs focuses about students working together while completing various assigned tasks in their physical education class. This gives them the opportunity to connect with their peers when participating in group activities. It also recognizes members of the BHS student body who may require additional services.

“The program is designed to equip students with the tools to face life’s challenges, both on and off the field and the court,” McKain said. “Building Bulldogs lessons incorporate themes such as teamwork, collaboration, and communication into kinesthetic activities and have helped identify students in need of professional support services.”

In addition to independently running Building Bulldogs, BHS staff have partnered with Wayfinder, an organization that provides a variety of tools that support social-emotional learning practices. Helping students approach life with a healthy and purposeful mental perspective is a focus of Wayfinder. Their shared interests with BHS have developed a system that helps students feel at home on campus as they learn more about themselves.

“The program is used to help students develop a sense of belonging and connection to our school campus,” Sharaga said. “Through the lessons implemented in both physical education classes and with our student-athletes, students have the opportunity to better understand their identity and engage in social-emotional learning.”

Ellya Asatryan, a Burbank high school student and Building Bulldogs ambassador, led a class discussion about trying new things with ninth-graders of athletic director Alli McKain. (photo courtesy of Alli McKain)

Wayfinder also shared the story of Building Bulldogs with college media Education Week. An article about Asatryan’s experiences as a student ambassador for the program will be published in an upcoming issue of their magazine. Additionally, Asatryan spoke about leading the program at a recent education summit attended by more than 2,000 educators from across the country. Asatryan now educates fellow students about Building Bulldogs through his BHS Broadcast Journalism course and communicates student needs to BHS faculty members.

As Building Bulldogs thrives, a vote from the Burbank Teachers Association will be needed to expand social-emotional learning at BHS. It will also depend on how the school’s bell schedule changes over the next few years, Crowther says. For now, however, Building Bulldogs will continue to be offered to ninth graders.

This program has so far proven beneficial to BHS teachers and students. Although she was unfamiliar with this approach not long ago, McKain is now a strong proponent of social-emotional learning since witnessing the results of Building Bulldogs.

BHS Advisor Jacob Flores leads a Building Bulldogs session on the importance of “I statements” with the Burbank High School cross-country team. (photo courtesy of Alli McKain)

“I learned more about the students and athletes at Burbank High School, and in turn, they learned more about me,” McKain said of Building Bulldogs’ impact. “Because of this, we share a deeper understanding and connection that has contributed to a more positive classroom and a team culture with a greater sense of belonging at school.”

BHS Director Dr Thomas Crowther, Athletic Director Alli Mckain and Advisor Gabby Sharaga are among those responsible for the Building Bulldogs program. (photo courtesy of Alli McKain)
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Ryan H. Bowman