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Additional Support for Social-Emotional Learning
posted by: Tamia | September 22, 2021, 07:59 PM   

A new school year is in full swing across the country. While many educators hoped for a year that resembles normalcy, the current surge from the COVID-19 delta variant continues to create obstacles for the education system. With students returning to the classroom, there is one acknowledgment that all educators must make: tha pandemic has shaken the foundations of many of our students and the related trauma they experienced did not disappear over the summer.

We were optimistic for a more normal year, but some Idaho schools are already moving to online learning, COVID-19 cases are rising, and uncertainty is gripping students. On September 1, Idaho had a new case count of 1,163. This is a trend of rising numbers since early June. With these rising numbers, only 32 school districts or charter schools are requiring masks in their buildings, while the remaining 163 school districts do not have this requirement. This year is posing continued challenges we thought we thought we had overcome, and our students continued to feel the brunt of it all.

We asked them to be resilient and push through the difficult times. In normal circumstances, this is a large ask for students, but in the face of so much uncertainty, this has become an overwhelming expectation.

Students are experiencing social and emotional challenges at an alarming rate. Reports show that more than a quarter of high school students stated a decline in emotional and mental health, while approximately one-fifth of families said that their children 5-12 were exhibiting worsened conditions as well. Evidence continues to support the need for increased assistance regarding students’ mental and emotional health.

As a classroom teacher for the past four years, and starting this year as a dean of students, I can see the pandemic’s impact on the emotional health of students. Last year I saw an increased need for extra support such as behavior trackers, additional time with the counselor, and more sensitivity to changes or adversity.

There were some days I could barely complete a lesson because so many of my students needed something other than academics. My classroom as a whole seemed to be consumed with emotional concerns.

My new role as dean was partially created out of a need to help support the mental and emotional health of the students.

Educators need training and the tools to support students and families as the 2021-2022 school year gets underway. Much of the trauma and anxiety will persist for many students. Necessary adjustments to support students in the years to come need to be implemented.

Providing more mental health experts such as counselors and psychologists in schools is a possible solution. These personnel will be crucial to supporting our scholars through their challenges.

Teachers also need more time and resources to incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL). They need more training to know how to support SEL, a structured curriculum, and extra staff to help support the students.

Some students have gone a year without interacting with other students. They may be experiencing heightened anxiety and schools could see a rise in struggling social interactions. This will be trying for both social and emotional reasons.

Students need to feel a sense of social and emotional safety before they are ready to learn. Academics will come once students are fully in a learning mindset. For students who experienced trauma, it may take time to heal and we owe them the time and the support they need as we all navigate this new normal together.

Austin Ambrose is dean of students at Forge International School in Middleton, Idaho. He previously taught elementary school at a school in Nampa, Idaho. In his current position, Austin is responsible for building a strong school culture and providing emotional/behavioral support for students. Austin is a 2021 Association of American Educators Foundation Advocacy Fellow.

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