Millions of students are returning to school in the coming weeks. Whether in person or virtual classrooms, academics will likely be the highest priority. But many students, educators, and parents want to dedicate time for social emotional learning and development.
After months of social distancing, students need time to reconnect and adjust to their new environment.
Student Leader Helping Peers Adjust
Amber McCormack, a member of the Sandy Hook Promise National Youth Advisory Board, helps her peers stay connected. “I would love to see a week’s worth of social activities and icebreakers for students when they return to school,” she shared. Sadly, she realizes that’s not likely in many communities.
“There are a lot of students who have been socially isolated from their friends and will have a hard time adjusting,” she said.
Amber stressed that Start With Hello Week, which is held annually in September, bridges that gap. Activities help students reconnect with their peers after months of being apart.
“It will probably be one of the most important weeks of the year,” she said. “The activities will give us an opportunity to reach out to other students and make sure they feel connected again. A successful Start With Hello Week is super important and sets the tone for the rest of the year.”
Parental Concerns About Emotional Wellness
Parents also stressed that, while the academics are important, many students have emotional needs that must be addressed.
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is going to be rampant after this pandemic, but people aren’t talking about it,” said Rick Mehler, a parent of two children.
Rick also shared his unique perspective as a former member of the military, now training to become a teacher. “The long-term consequences will vary by person, but It’s going to impact everyone, including the students.”
Social Emotional Wellness Reduces Learning Gap
“There is going to be a big push to prepare students academically for the time they lost, and catch the students up for testing,” said La-Shanda West, an educator at Cutler Bay Senior High in Florida. “But students won’t be able to succeed if their emotional well-being isn’t addressed. Suicide rates and depression are on the rise. There are so many indicators that show students will need counselors and mental health assistance when they return.”
West also said that SAVE Promise Clubs can help keep students stay connected with each other. Her school’s Club created “virtual wellness checks” to help students keep in touch. They’re reaching out to each other through social media on a weekly basis and sharing words of encouragement.
“I think these wellness checks are very important and the peer-to-peer model works well,” she said. “Sometimes students will feel like they’re letting an adult down, and won’t say what’s bothering them. But they are more likely to talk with their peers. SAVE Promise Clubs will be instrumental in creating these opportunities. They will be more important than ever this year, as students adjust to a new reality.”
Start With Hello to Boost Social Emotional Development
Social isolation often leads to bullying, violence, and depression. Sadly, the pandemic is worsening this crisis. But you can help. Start With Hello brings attention to the growing epidemic of loneliness and teaches young people how to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness.