Graphic that reads: Santina Plottner named to 2022 SEL Fellows Academy. Includes a headshot photo of Santina Plottner.Santina Plottner, Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC) social emotional learning specialist, is one of the leaders from 53 school districts and regional offices of education across the nation to join a national fellowship focused on social and emotional learning (SEL). Plottner has been named a member of the 2022 Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) cohort of the SEL Fellows Academy.

“This opportunity is very timely as education in Kentucky is progressing in many ways right now,” Plottner said. “The United We Learn vision for the future of education in Kentucky is paving the way for systemic change. Social and emotional learning is so much more than just talking about feelings – it is the foundation of the human experience, where we gain the knowledge of how to make responsible decisions, how to be aware of ourselves and others through empathy, how to build and foster relationships, and how to manage our emotions in order to be productive citizens in our communities.”

SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities; manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions.

“I am honored that I have been chosen for this opportunity because I want to learn and grow as much as I can so that I can help schools and districts develop vibrant and innovative experiences for Kentucky’s students,” she said.

SEL Fellows must be employed by a district or regional office of education in the United States, must be passionate about SEL, dedicated to their own discovery and development and responsible for leading SEL in their community.

Selected from a pool of applicants from SEL leaders across 18 states, the 2022 cohort of the SEL Fellows Academy participates to support students, educators and communities. They collectively serve more than 2 million students, preschool to high school. Last year’s inaugural 2021 cohort welcomed 31 school district and regional leaders from 17 states.

“This experience means the world to me. I am absolutely thrilled to be an SEL Fellow,” said Plottner. “As I met some of the other Fellows across the country, I found myself wondering, ‘How did I get here?’”

“CASEL is a collaborative that is filled with the world’s top experts in social and emotional learning, and I get to collaborate with them. What a huge honor and a high order task for me. The CASEL members who have developed the Fellows opportunity have been really clear about the fact that they are learning constantly and that they are learning with us,” she explained. “We are all learning from each other’s experiences, and I think that is priceless.”

Having Plottner as an SEL Fellow will allow her to learn from and collaborate with others in her field, but it also is a plus for Kentucky that she is a leader in this work.

“We are so excited to have a representative from Kentucky for the SEL Fellows Program with CASEL,” said Damien Sweeney, Ed.D., director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Office of Teaching and Learning. “Santina has so much knowledge, expertise and passion for her position as a SEL specialist and we firmly believe that her participation in this program will not only help the students in her region but also throughout our state.”

“While Santina humbly asks, ‘How did I get here?’ our answer is clear. Her experience and her desire to help others allows her to thrive in her position. Also, Santina leads by example. She gets into schools and districts in her region and finds ways to empathize with educators and students. To me, this is why Santina absolutely belongs in the Fellows program and why we are so excited to have her leadership in Kentucky.”

As an SEL Fellow, Plottner and the other cohorts spend three hours a month at virtual community gatherings that involve full group workshops as well as peer inquiry circles. Outside of the hours together, they also have journey partners, a small group of SEL Fellows who share a common goal district structure, and/or interests and have a monthly collaboration, and a CASEL mentor that they collaborate with regularly.

“My journey partners are also other regional leaders who live in California and New York,” she explained. “Despite being regional leaders, all our journeys look differently, and I am eager to learn from them and share with them. We have had one meeting so far and I have sparked so many thoughts and ideas just from a 30-minute call.”

Launched in 2021 by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning and with seed funding from The Allstate Foundation, the SEL Fellows Academy is a unique opportunity for rural, suburban and urban communities to strengthen their SEL expertise with those in similar roles across the country.

“We are thrilled to expand this new effort, bringing together SEL champions from across the country to deepen their leadership, expertise and community of supporters,” said CASEL’s Senior Director of Practice Karen VanAusdal. “These exceptional leaders are now connected to a national community of SEL practitioners committed to ensuring SEL-rich learning experiences and environments for their young people in partnership with one another and CASEL.”

Growing up in a small town in southeast Ohio, Plottner said it was always a passion to help people. After high school she went to community college to study in the medical field. She planned to complete an accelerated registered nurse program, but during her first quarter of nursing school her focus changed. She found she had an interest in psychiatric nursing. Human behavior had always intrigued her.

 “After two quarters of anatomy classes and clinicals, I quickly realized that maybe nursing isn’t going to be my life’s work,” she explained. “Unsure about what to do, I enrolled in a general psychology course and my professor was really engaging. While teaching psychology, she intertwined her real world experiences into every class and by the time I finished my associates degree, I had taken every class that she offered.”  

After transferring to Ohio University, Plottner completed a bachelor of arts degree in psychology followed by a master of education in school counseling and mental health counseling, also at Ohio University.

Upon graduation in 2005, she moved to Louisville to work as a mental health therapist for children with autism and their families at Home of the Innocence. In 2007, she became a school counselor at Bridgeport Elementary (Franklin County) and in 2014 became the school counselor at Southside Elementary (Shelby County). Three years later, she took on a mental health consultant role with Shelby County Public Schools and became a licensed professional clinical counselor. She is also a certified school counselor. In 2021, she had the chance to work as an SEL specialist for OVEC.

“Having the opportunity to collaborate and serve with the other consultants at OVEC has been amazing,” she said. “OVEC is a great place to work and now I get to support the schools and districts in our region with implementing systemic SEL.”

 As a social emotional learning specialist at OVEC, she supports a consortium of 15 school districts serving 155,000 students in north central Kentucky.

Plottner hopes the experience of being an SEL Fellow will allow her to continue to grow and better serve students, families and the school community.

“My hope for the year ahead is to develop connections with other SEL leaders in order to design innovative ways that social and emotional learning can be integrated and woven into existing structures and systems that support the students, educators, families and communities in my region of Kentucky and beyond,” she said. “Also, I am hopeful that I will connect with other leaders on developing and sustaining systems of support for educators to specifically help with teacher wellness and retention.

Plottner explained that adults cannot give what they do not have but focusing on adult SEL will help the adults weave it into the fabric of everything that they do.

She hopes that during this journey she can be a support to others.

“I believe that we all can only grow from here,” she said. “I am truly looking forward to this experience.”