Mesa County’s School District 51 Foundation is Connecting Hearts and Minds in Learning

Social-emotional learning is a methodology that helps students of all ages better comprehend their emotions, feel those emotions fully and demonstrate empathy for others. The idea is that these learned behaviors can then help students make positive, responsible decisions, create frameworks to achieve their goals and build relationships with others.

While social-emotional learning isn’t a designated subject like language or math, it can be woven into the fabric of a school’s curriculum. When teachers make academic lessons more personal and relatable to students, students are often more inclined to participate and may be less likely to check-out mentally during their subjects. By fostering a sense of empathy, self-awareness and feelings of safety and inclusiveness in the classroom, this method can have a positive impact that lasts a lifetime.

The Mesa County Valley School District 51 Foundation and Alpine Bank are partners in bringing social-emotional learning to Grand Junction and Mesa County schools. Alpine Bank donated $50,000 to fund grants for District 51 teachers, principals and counselors to develop a local program. The first round of grants was awarded in May, and in September, the application process for the second round of grants began.

“We are so grateful for Alpine Bank’s generosity and partnership over the past 10 years. 2020 was an exceptionally hard year for our staff and students. This donation is a huge shot in the arm to help our staff and students who might be struggling,” said superintendent Diana Sirko, Ph.D. “Social-emotional learning is a critical part of our curriculum and imperative for effective life functioning.”

One tangible example of the work of the foundation is at Nisley Elementary School, in behavior coach Sandy Church’s Common Area Support Center, which was funded by the grant. Here, kids who might have a behavior problem or are disruptive in class can use their gross motor skills to roll around on the mats and exercise balls, play games and take a break to redirect their energy in a positive way. There’s a tepee in the room — a cozy nook to curl up in with a book, which provides a needed quiet space for some students.

“In a time when many students and teachers feel overwhelmed, there is relief knowing that I’ll have additional support and resources to care for the social and emotional needs of students in my classroom,” said Josh Guddat, a teacher at Bookcliff Middle School and recipient of a grant to purchase books focused on social-emotional learning for his classroom. For more information about the School District 51 Foundation and ways to get involved, visit

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