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Meet the SEL Center Team

The Social and Emotional Learning Center at Children's Institute is a true team with a collaborative approach. Our staff works with many others across Children's Institute, we partner with community members and organizations, and we have a talented bench of expert trainers and educators across our area. When you reach out to the SEL Center for collaboration, consultation, resources, or just to chat, you will probably be speaking with one of the three staff members listed here. 

We talk a lot about relationships as the foundation for learning, and we want you to feel like you know a little about us when we work together. In the spirit of fun, learning, and new friends, here's a little info on our team.


Elizabeth Devaney, SEL Center Director 

What was your favorite thing about school when you were growing up?

My elementary school, Touchstone Community School in Massachusetts, focused on social and emotional learning  before it was a thing.  Two of my teachers there – Ginny and Chris (We were allowed to call them by their first name to promote mutual respect between teacher and student) – taught me to love learning.   They were both more interested in process than product, encouraged me to explore my interests,  and fostered my strengths rather than focusing on correcting my weaknesses. Plus Ginny played a mean guitar and taught us to sing all her favorite songs from the 60’s. I remember belting out Yellow Submarine, Blowin’ in the Wind and Johnny Be Good with my classmates. It was sheer fun, without any “academic” purpose, and I loved it.


What are three things you absolutely want to do or experience in your life? (Feel free to include ones you may have already accomplished!)

  1. Have children – This was always something I wanted, so I am happy to be able to say I’ve accomplished one of my greatest goals in life.  My three amazing kids teach me new things every day.  Although it is definitely challenging to spend my days learning and talking about social and emotional development and what is important for kids (it’s like a non-stop parenting check), they also give me daily reminders about why I do this work.  
  2. See a blue whale breech, preferably while riding in an inflatable Zodiac – Whales have always been my favorite animal.  They are mysterious and majestic and beautiful.  I’ve been on run of the mill whale watches, but have always wanted to see a blue whale.  When I was a kid, I had a poster in my room of a blue whale breeching, probably with the Alaskan coast as a back drop. Someday I would love to see that mighty, majestic, mysterious being up close.
  3. Travel to all 7 continents – Travel is really important to me. It reminds me how vast and diverse and beautiful our world is and helps to push me out of my comfort zone. I’d give up just about everything else material in my life in order to make travel happen.  I’ve spent a year in Finland, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, studied abroad in Australia, driven across all or parts of the United States several times, sailed on the coast of Iceland and Newfoundland, and swam in the Red Sea. I haven’t made it to South America, Asia, or Antarctica yet so they are next on my list!


Christine Merle, SEL Center Training Coordinator 

What was your favorite thing about school when you were growing up?

Seeing my friends!  I would love to say “stretching my mind” and “facing academic challenges,” but let’s face it, I love socializing!  There was no Snapchat or Instagram back in the day – you had to go to school to have those social interactions!   Ironically my closest childhood friend and I both became teachers!

What are three things you absolutely want to do or experience in your life? 

  1. Travel more – every new place, even those closer to home, results in new experiences and new perspectives.  I am always asking, “What’s it like to be a local here?” 
  2. Take risks – in choices, in activities, in food, and in hobbies – I want to show my kids what it’s like to put myself out there occasionally.  If I fall, I know I stand up stronger while laughing hysterically, along the way.
  3. Purposefully enjoy the simpler things – whether I am on a soccer field, chauffeuring a kid or two, attending a spring concert, or completing mundane chores, I want to make it a point to enjoy those moments.  Rather than worrying about what is next, I am trying to make a point of being grateful for the moment that I am in.  


Caitlin Orbanek, SEL Center Program Coordinator 

What was your favorite thing about school when you were growing up?

Definitely sports. I'm from Webster and I had a good time in school because I had great friends and I was very fortunate to have wonderful teachers, but the rule was that you had to go to class in order to go to practice, so that's what kept me showing up! I was on the swim team and the lacrosse team, and later I joined a crew team, so athletics were a big part of my life. I'm still on great terms with many of my coaches today, and I could talk at length about the formative ways sports shaped my life.

What are three things you absolutely want to do or experience in your life?

  1. I'd like to sew professionally. I do a lot of garment-sewing now as a hobby, but I could see a small Etsy shop in my future as a side project/creative outlet/fun challenge.
  2. More travel. I haven't traveled much at all, and I am constantly inspired by my younger sister who seems determined to live in every far-flung place she can think of! As a self-professed homebody, I'm grateful to have a built-in travel buddy for the future.
  3. I'd like to compete in an Olympic distance triathlon. I've got the swim covered, and I love cycling, but running is not my strong suit. A goal like this would take a huge amount of dedication, training, and mental focus. But the feeling of accomplishment would be worth it!


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