March SEL Champion of the Month: Lauren Malone

Welcome back to another SEL Champion of the Month. A time dedicated to honoring individuals doing amazing work with social emotional learning. Our champion for March is Lauren Malone, a school counselor at Academy Prep located in Florida. 


To start this story, let’s first discuss Academy Prep (AP). AP is a 501C3 nationally accredited non-profit organization that specializes in students, grades 5-8, living in urban areas. AP is a very unique institution. They also provide need based scholarships for their students. This scholarship covers around 30-40% of the education and then the rest of the tuition is covered by donations through public philanthropy in their community

Academy Prep’s curriculum is unique and rigorous. Students attend classes 6 days a week, usually with a field trip study day on Saturdays. Students are in school for around 10 hours a day. This roadmap for their school ensures a very different way of learning and teaching, but AP has seen great success with this structure. 

Our SEL Champion, Lauren Malone, first got connected to Academy Prep while studying at the University of Tampa where she also worked for Americorp. Academy Prep, always in need of a helping hand, uses Americorp teachers in their school. Lauren saw a job posting and began teaching at AP. She explains her teaching experience at AP as humbling and refreshing, she is rewarded not only by the students, but also by Academy Prep as an institution. She came to AP with zero teaching experience, but was encouraged to grow and learn. 

Academy Prep not only invests in their students, but also their teachers. 

Lauren’s background is in mental health, so as a teacher,  she looked at situations in the classroom from a different eye than her peers, and she found herself incorporating SEL into her lessons and relationships with her students. Lauren believed that when a student is coming into class ‘hot’, their ability to pay attention, learn, and retain information is extremely limited. 

We have to address what is happening outside of the classroom in order for students to be successful inside the classroom. 

After Academy Prep opened up a sister campus in a different part of Florida, the position for guidance counselor at Lauren’s current school campus opened up and she jumped at the opportunity to enter that new arena. 

Lauren describes her professional career like she’s Goldilocks. The Americorp was a little ‘too hard’, being a teacher was a little ‘too soft’, but being a guidance counselor was just right. 

Her first mission as the Academy Prep guidance counselor was to implement an intense SEL curriculum. She believed that SEL was just as important of a subject to teach and learn as the other rigorous classes they offered. It’s about making sure students are literate and capable in all aspects of their lives - this includes emotional literacy. 

Academy Prep had a previous relationship with a non-profit organization called Frameworks of Tampa Bay, a company that provides specialized SEL education plans catered to individual schools. In 2019, with the help from Frameworks of Tampa Bay, AP officially began implementing SEL programming into their school. 

Not but a year later, Covid-19 hit the world, and exacerbated all the difficulties students faced but were not able to supplement those shortcomings with further SEL programming. 

Through implementing SEL into the fabric of their school, AP was able to create a central place where every student can land. This is especially important with Covid-19 where we can see that all across the nation, SEL skills are plummeting. 

Academy Prep began with their staff in an effort to redefine what classrooms looked like, and make relationship building between teachers and students a priority. After the teachers were on board, they began to fold in the families because learning can’t stop at the students and the teachers , instead, we need to include the entire family.

Lauren teaches a SEL course at Academy Prep, a class dedicated to helping students work through their situations and emotions so they can all be stronger and more successful. Since implementing SEL into the Academy Prep curriculum in 2019, Lauren has seen an increase in parent engagement, an increase in relationship building amongst staff, an increase in mental health support, a decrease in behavior referrals, and through conversation and data, Academy Prep is able to create tiered support for individual students with different needs because learning isn’t always one size fits all. 

“We all want the same thing - we want success for our kids and success is going to look different and the road to that success is going to be different. But we got it.” - Lauren Malone 

Academy Prep has implemented two of iMPACTFUL’s toolkits into their school, ANGST and The Upstanders, and will soon be incorporating RACE to Be Human. They not only offer our programs to their student body, but they also invite parents, guardians and caretakers to participate in the conversations. Lauren expressed that in her community, there is a wide variety of people taking care of the children, it’s not just moms and dads anymore. These caretakers are experiencing their own hardships and emotions and can benefit from SEL just as much as the students in some cases. 

To offer  a space for parents/guardians to experience social emotional learning, grow their own tool belts, and gain the language necessary to express their own feelings is extraordinary. 

If you know someone who you believe to be an SEL Champion in your community, consider nominating them HERE! We hope you enjoyed reading this and we will see you in the next one! 

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