Learning to control impulses, pay attention and build strong relationships may be considered “soft skills,” but experts say they provide a big leg up in helping reduce academic achievement gaps that separate disadvantaged students from their peers.

It’s part of the reason so many schools across the state and nation are focusing on social and emotional learning, and why some districts are expanding the ranks of social workers and psychologists. In Colorado, such efforts gained traction in 2016.

At many schools, it’s mental health staff who are spearheading the work. Don’t miss the catchy pop music videos that the school psychologist and behavior interventionist at Denver’s Green Valley Elementary created with students.

Across town at Munroe Elementary in southwest Denver, the school psychologist teaches mindfulness to students, and teachers say it’s paying off.

At Louisville Middle School in the Boulder Valley district, the whole staff is on board with an effort to make sure kids feel connected to school through a wide array of extracurricular offerings and careful tracking of participation.

Amid individual efforts by schools and districts this year, there was also a national campaign to help teachers work with kids who’ve experienced trauma and a new report showing what traits schools with low suspension rates share.