Learning Social-Emotional Awareness Through Art
Posted on 04/05/2022
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“I have a whole year’s worth of projects planned,” laughs Alexis Gatses. “I have so  many ideas I want to try, it may be two years’ worth!”  

As a social worker at Stratton Academy of the Arts, Gatses works with kindergarten through second-grade students who need extra help socially and emotionally. She also works with all Stratton students on projects to help with everyday issues, like bullying prevention and regulating emotions. “My focus is on SEL—social-emotional learning,”  she explains. “Every month, I introduce a new topic and go into the classrooms to teach  and develop critical thinking and reflective skills.”  

Gatses loves Stratton for many reasons, but as an artist herself, she really digs into the  thematic curriculum. Her SEL calendar incorporates a lot of art therapy—using art  mediums and different art forms for self-discovery. The goal is to give her students the tools to think through issues themselves. “We’ll do an art project together and I’ll say, ‘Look! Everyone chose a different color, and that’s cool! What do we think about that?’”  Gatses says these are great lessons that encourage the kids to recognize their  similarities and differences and reflect on how they treat one another. “They engage in conversation about their art and through that, they make a lot of social and emotional  discoveries about themselves and each other.”  

The lessons she teaches are not confined to the walls of the classrooms, either. The  Stratton magnet program also focuses on engagement with the community, and Gatses uses art to help students with service projects. “We use art to do a lot of different things  with our community connections,” she says. “For instance, This year, we are making beautiful blankets for the homeless shelters.”  

When she came to Stratton, Gatses didn’t know social work could be this engaging and  hands-on with the whole student body. Through the magnet curriculum, she enjoys a  positive community that encourages her own growth as a professional. “I can’t say 

enough good things about our magnet school coordinator and staff,” she says. “They’re  accessible, always open, and supportive. I’m never afraid to give an idea and they’re  always willing to help me make it happen. It’s a real benefit to the students, and it makes  me a happy and more innovative social worker for these kids.”

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