ATLANTA -- A new program in the Atlanta Public Schools system is leading to dramatic declines in school suspensions and behavioral issues.

APS School Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen brought the program, called social emotional learning, with her from Austin, Texas.

Program coordinator Kori Smith said the idea is for students across the system to sit down with each other every morning and share what’s on their minds. Many of the students come with limited support from home, she said, and this new approach to learning can help them feel connected when they come to class.

“They come with so much on their heart and in their head,” Smith said. “And then we ask them to collaborate on academics, but that can get in the way.”

“Whether I'm hungry, or I'm cold, or someone in my family is hurt, and having that in my head and on my heart, I can't just leave that alone and engage with academic content,” one student told 11Alive.

Kids will talk about everything from the death of a family member, to a new friend they made, Smith said.

“It's allowed us to get to know our students as children, as little people who have feelings,” one educator said.

Smith said the program is helping improve behavior and test scores at 65 schools throughout the APS.