STORY #7: Social Emotional Learning Pillar

As the Program Associate at One Common Unity (OCU), I work closely, day to day, with the Program Director and Program Facilitators to ensure FLY BY LIGHT is the best it can be and that everyone has what they need to succeed. Of the five OCU pillars in our Fly By Light curriculum, social-emotional learning (SEL) is a cornerstone.

During the school year, each Fly By Light workshop begins with a check-in asking students to share their highs and lows from their week, or how they are feeling at that moment. This allows students to get in the practice of identifying and expressing emotions that are showing up for them. Sometimes this is difficult for students at first, but through the course of a year, it gets easier. It’s these small, consistent moments that help develop social-emotional literacy in young people. Life moves fast, so acquiring self-care skills, to be able to identify feelings moment to moment, or even knowing when a pause is needed, is priceless. 

The Fly By Light curriculum encompasses myriad activities, lessons, and games that deepen student’s abilities for self-awareness, empathy, community, managing difficult emotions, and the potency of responsible decision making. For example, in our conflict workshops we invite students to think of a conflict that is occurring currently in their life. We then prompt students to artistically express how they feel, and invite them to explore how they think the other person/people feels, what is the ideal resolution, and finally, how they can bring that resolution into reality. Problem solving and cultivation of critical thinking skills put into practice. 

During the summer, we offer students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of social-emotional literacy concepts through a week long nature immersion retreat. Activities such as hikes, canoe trips, and animal sanctuary field trips are opportunities for students to bond with their peers and facilitators as well as expand the SEL tools they have acquired throughout the school year. Five days in the woods, with students, offers new worldviews and unique ways of engaging; a magical thing to witness.

All of OCU’s staff possess deep emotional intelligence and literacy. This offers us the ability to consistently model, for our young people, the world we desire, and hold them with compassion and accountability as they grow. We are so pleased that you get to read the stories of two incredible young people Rose and Tommie. Both of these amazing, young humans embody the Social-Emotional pillar with grace, wholeheartedness and a wisdom beyond their years. It was an honor to interview them, learn from them, and laugh with them. I hope you enjoy their reflections as much as I do. – Madison McCoy


Part of celebrating OCU’s #20Stories20Years we’re highlighting two Fly By Light youth that exemplify each pillar: Artistic Expression, Social-Emotional Learning, Health and Wellness, Environmental Stewardship, and Social Justice. Our featured youth for SEL are ROSE and TOMMIE.


“You are the most important person in your life. You need to take care of you so then you can take care of others if you want to add them to the equation.”

My name is Rose and I am 14. I go to McKinley Tech High School. I am very friendly and outgoing though I am not really a “people person.” It takes a lot for me to feel comfortable around people. I try to present the best image I can so they don’t think I’m mean and standoffish. I think I am very welcoming and I like collaborating with other people. 

People who have influenced me are my 7th grade algebra teacher, MR Malcom; he knew when I was struggling. He helped me and was there when I needed to talk to someone. He always told me not to change myself, and to try to be the best person I can be. And my grandma has always supported me and has been someone I can connect with. She makes me feel really special.

I got involved with Fly By Light when I was sitting in an assembly at school and I saw Zhy and Dougie D perform. It seemed like they really knew who they were and knew what they were doing. They said Fly By Light was an afterschool program and so I participated in FBL during my 7th and 8th grade year and have enjoyed it ever since. 

From my experience with Fly By Light, I’ve learned a lot about social justice and human rights. It opened up my eyes to everything going on in the world. I was a child who had anger issues and trauma in my life, FBL helped me learn how to deal with it and take control of my emotions. It has impacted me because my emotions control how I act around people and towards people. My facial expressions show that, if I am going somewhere, where I need to control my emotions, it taught me how to deal with those emotions and carry myself in a more effective way; rather than letting my emotions control me. 

Something to share is, don’t try to change yourself for others. I’ve never been the most popular person, and the only person’s approval you need is your own. You are the most important person in your life. You need to take care of you so then you can take care of others if you want to add them to the equation. Fly  By Light is a life changing experience and something that I wish everyone could be involved in. It does so much for a person. It helps you become a better person. The people you meet are so important and they eventually become like your family.


“If you have the thought of joining FLY BY LIGHT, just do it because it is just worth it.”

My name is Tommie/Asia, I’m 15, and I go to Eastern High School. I am very open minded, accepting, different, and mature for my age. I articulate and like to make everyone around me feel happy (this can be both a good and bad thing). The places and people that influenced my upbringing are the people that I went to middle school with. Middle school is where I began to find myself and figure out who I am. There are certain people (friends) who helped me express myself more and throughout the years that is how I became who I am today. When I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be outgoing or stay true to myself, they would say “just try it and if you don’t like it you can go back.” They were really accepting and understanding, and in a sense they helped mold me. The other place that influenced me greatly is my mother, which at times has been challenging but made me tough at my core. Even when it’s overwhelming, I learned how to bare a lot going on, at all times and still keep up with my life. I have grown from it and it has helped me not care what others say to me. It takes a lot to break me; it really depends on the person.

I got involved with Fly By Light when I was actually at lunch and Ms. Princess came in. She made an announcement and it was really fun. I was like, “ooh I really like this.” When she mentioned that there would be a lunch group I was like, “I’M JOINING THAT ASAP!” In the lunch group we would talk about things, have goldfish, granola bars and sometimes pizza. I always looked forward to lunch groups. I was in the FBL school program for two years. When they open up the virtual program at Eastern I will be first in line! 

Some things that I learned from my experience with Fly By Light is that I can just be myself and really learn to accept myself. I became open to doing things how I do them rather than adjusting to how other people do them. I also learned that a week in a house with no internet can really bring you close to people you never thought you would be that close with. 

Incorporating SEL into my life has impacted me to more deeply realize myself and my emotions. At first I would just feel, and not know how to identify it. It has been much easier to articulate what I’m feeling when someone asks me. It helped me when I was asked to write about the feelings. I found myself better able to identify them to others. This has helped me recognize if someone is feeling a certain way, I need to do this or that to make them feel better. I have learned that you shouldn’t settle for anything less than what you expect. Really. It might sound cliche but that is a real thing. If your standards are at a certain point and someone/something comes into your life and it doesn’t meet it, don’t just settle. Your time will come and your expectations will be met. Another thing, don’t be afraid to let people go, or be afraid to lose people. If they cannot accept you for who you are, they don’t deserve the pleasure to be a part of your life.

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