An Interview with Andy, Empowering Education's Founder
Andy Wilfong, founder of Empowering Education, has advocated for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools for over a decade. We spoke to him on July 14, 2020 about where he started with SEL and where the industry is headed.
What does “social emotional learning” mean to you?
SEL is integrating skills that allow you to manage life’s situations.
When you think back on your own childhood, what programs like Empowering Minds existed?
Growing up In the 1970s and 1980s, SEL programs didn’t exist, so basically SEL was an unmet need. However, I feel there was much more “real” interaction between children growing up during this era. “Real” being children together as they communicated - instead of via social media. I think being in the same physical space allows for more intense social and emotional interactions, effectively providing more of a real-world SEL program.
What role do you see parents playing in SEL?
Parents can be the reinforcement of what is being taught in school. However, this involvement requires parents to understand the curriculum and believe in it.
You described having a personal connection to SEL through your experience as a father. What role does that experience still play in your involvement today?
Incorporating SEL into my son’s parenting and seeing the success it had in his upbringing, convinces me of the value of SEL. My son overcame his challenges in response to social emotional learning, and I believe other children can too.
Studies show a correlation between SEL and academic achievement. Which speaks more to you, the personal development of students or their academic achievement?
I believe that unless a student is healthy, both physically and mentally, academic achievement is unattainable. This is why Empowering Education’s mission is to enable learning through social and emotional development. Emotional well-being is a significant prerequisite for academic achievement.
You founded Empowering Education in 2009 and have been involved ever since. How have you seen the industry change in that time?
In the past decade, there has been an explosion of interest in SEL. Research has documented the value of SEL programs. Similarly, schools, families, and communities are recognizing the academic success of students who undergo SEL. Therefore, federal, state, and local governments began to establish policies that consider the whole student. The educational system is finally starting to understand the importance of mental health in the social, emotional, and academic growth of students.
Empowering Education focuses teaching mindfulness. How do you relate to that focus - through the research, your own experience, or something else?
I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful in my life. Looking back, my ability to be mindful has led to my success, both personally and professionally. Because I like to treat others the way I treat myself, I’m able to maintain supportive relationships. Because of my ability to focus, I can accomplish my goals.
What are your hopes for Empowering Education going forward?
I’m hoping we can increase our presence in the SEL landscape, nationwide and even globally. Initially, we offered our curriculum in the Colorado area, but COVID-19 required us to adapt to distance learning. Recent updates to the curriculum will allow for marketing beyond Colorado schools, which makes me proud.
At his day job, Andy Wilfong has led Infinity Systems Engineering since 1996. Andy’s leadership has earned his company the award of best Small Business in the state of Colorado in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012. In addition to his professional accolades, Andy acts as the Board Chairman of Empowering Education.
Have your own questions for Andy? Send us an email at [email protected].