Engaging SEL Curriculum for Middle & High School Students

PK-12Mental HealthSubstance UseSuicide PreventionTrauma-Informed Teaching

Social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum for high school and middle school students is being implemented in districts across the country, recognized as having a positive effect on development, behavior, and engagement that impact mental wellbeing and academic success.

With a myriad of solutions now on the market to teach students, schools and districts have many factors to weigh when it comes to choosing SEL instruction. Schools can see better results when SEL curriculum truly resonates with students, especially those in middle and high school.

Where Does SEL Make a Difference?

Studies have shown that behaviors such as violence and bullying can be linked to poor social and emotional skills. Students with high social and emotional skills can better understand and manage their emotions, form healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions. They also demonstrate improved behavior and academic performance, as well as better college and career readiness.

Incorporating SEL curriculum for high school and middle school students can benefit individual student performance, school climate, and help lead to positive outcomes both in and out of the classroom.

Addressing students’ needs from both a social-emotional learning competency perspective as well as from a mental health perspective is vital. SEL can help give students skills in self-management, self-awareness, decision-making, and relationship-building. These building blocks can give students a strong foundation, but mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and mood disorders require special attention. The two initiatives work together in a whole-child approach that aims to provide every student with the support they need.

What began as an experiential approach is now required in parts of the country. Three states—New York, Florida, and Virginia—have passed legislation that mandates mental health education at the K-12 level. Other states including Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania are following their lead with similar legislative initiatives currently in the works.

SEL Programs That Students Actually Like

It’s clear that SEL can have short- and long-term benefits for students, school districts, and communities at large. But how do you choose a program that will best serve your student population?

Here are some questions to ask when assessing the many SEL options available:

  • Is it relatable to students?
  • Is it interactive and engaging?
  • Does the content address school/district concerns and fulfill any needed requirements?
  • Does it go beyond awareness to build social-emotional skills?
  • Is it proven to be effective in affecting attitudes and behavior?
  • Will it be easy to implement?
Mental Health Education for Students with Friend2Friend - Take a Demo
Friend2Friend Demo

As with any educational program, in order for it to have the greatest impact, it has to have student buy-in. If students aren’t interested or engaged, they likely won’t process and learn these important life skills.

“It didn’t use words or sentences that made it feel like it was written by adults. It felt relevant to the problems teens deal with, and gave good advice on how to approach dealing with them. Best of all though, I liked that the main point was getting them help.” – Student response to Friend2Friend

Friend2Friend is Kognito’s online mental health and suicide prevention simulation. This SEL curriculum for high school and middle school students ages 13-17 prepares youth and young adults to recognize signs of distress, reach out to a friend they are concerned about, and help identify a trusted adult for support. Students practice speaking with Ana, a virtual teen showing signs of stress, so they can put strategies they’ve learned about through the program into practice.

We know that when in distress, students often turn to peers first. That’s why Friend2Friend builds conversation skills into SEL to ensure students have the capacity to respond to friends with compassion and take the appropriate steps to direct them toward help. These skills follow a lesson plan that reinforces core social and emotional learning competencies, including:

  • Self-efficacy – Labeling and recognizing one’s own and others’ emotions
  • Self-management – Seeking help when it’s needed
  • Social awareness – Identifying social cues (verbal, physical) to determine how others feel
  • Relationship management – Communicating effectively and providing help to those who need it

This research-proven online learning module engages youth in a vital conversation about mental health, and drives change in their skills and attitudes toward seeking help for oneself or a friend.

What Students Are Saying

SEL Curriculum for High School Students
Student feedback on Friend2Friend

Here are some responses from students when asked what they liked most about the Friend2Friend simulation:

“I liked that I controlled the conversation with Ana. It made it seem like I was actually in that situation.”

“I liked that I actually got to pretend to talk to a stressed out friend to get a sense on how to actually help a friend who is stressed out.”

“I liked how it gave you a lot of different options on what to say. Makes me more prepared if this were to happen to one of my friends.”

“What I liked most about the program was the easy simulations and how they were putting you in the shoes of how others feel.”

“The conversation between the two teenagers was a lot like a conversations many high school students would have.”

Of students who completed the simulation, 78% said they would recommend Friend2Friend to their friends, and 96% would rate the simulation as good, very good, or excellent.

Getting Started

If you’re looking to adopt SEL curriculum for high school and middle school students in your school district, we’d love for you to take a demo of Friend2Friend to see if it’s the right fit.


Want more insight and perspective from education and mental health leaders? Check out the posts below about two states who have used Friend2Friend to reach their students: