By Vae Champagne, Student Programs Manager, Sandy Hook Promise
During my years as a high school teacher, I found success in education comes down to one thing: relationships. And in this time of social distancing due to the COVID-19 crisis, relationships may look different – but they are more important than ever.
Now as the Student Programs Manager at Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), I help develop violence prevention programs for schools. At the core of these vital programs are key relationship skills. Here are three critical social and emotional learning (SEL) skills embodied in our programs that you can use during the current crisis and beyond.
1. Start a conversation. High fives, and fist bumps aren’t part of the current social distancing protocols. But you can still say “Hello” virtually. Reaching out to others who may be feeling lonely and speaking up when you see someone is in crisis or danger of harming themselves or others, are essential SEL skills for trying times.
Start With Hello heightens students’ ability to recognize when a peer is feeling lonely or left out. Giving students tools to develop empathy and prosocial behaviors provides fundamental skills students can build on throughout their education. When a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic hits, having these SEL skills makes it more likely that students will reach out to peers who may be experiencing isolation and loneliness while “sheltering in place” at home. Students also then generate clever, creative ways of using technology to reach out and help others in a period of social distancing. Some of these ideas are included in SHP’s social distancing activity guide.
2. Strengthen a healthy relationship with a trusted adult. Who was your trusted adult when you were in school? Whether it was a teacher, coach, school counselor, or another mentor - these adults shared similar qualities: being trustworthy, non-judgmental, kind, compassionate, and a good listener are common responses.
SHP’s Say Something program empowers students to find trusted adults with those special qualities. And they’ll know to go to them for help when they notice warning signs of students at risk of harming themselves or others. For example, students become familiar with what a concerning social media post looks like and take the immediate action to notify a trusted adult when they see one. There’s no question whether to report the concerning post, because the student has a healthy relationship with their trusted adult, knowing they will take the situation seriously and get help. Even in times of social distancing, trusted adults are showing up, reassuring their students virtually that they’re still there for them.
The trusted adult role is a critical one for the Say Something process. In the upcoming National Youth Violence Prevention Week, trusted adults show students how seriously they take their role through a variety of activities. Some educators are creating #TrustedAdult social media posts and others attend virtual workshops to best understand how to support and have conversations with students who approach them with warning signs and threats.
3. Peer-to-Peer Collaboration, Communication, and Education. SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) Promise Club is the youth leadership and empowerment branch of SHP’s violence prevention programs.
The SAVE Promise Club at Chardon High School in Ohio is an exemplary model for peer-to-peer relationship building. Kaylie Malloy is a SAVE Promise Club National Youth Advisory Board member and Senior at Chardon High School. Recently, Kaylie’s Club sponsored a school-wide Wellness Day. Students were taught yoga and mindful breathing, as well as how to make DIY stress balls, smile cards, kindness rocks, and shred stress.
Now that students are separated and engaged in distance learning, Kaylie reflects, “I am beyond passionate about this topic and about bonding together during this time. These activities are important because they ground you in the present moment. It's really easy to let your ideas run and think ‘what if...’ during this time, but that won't bring any comfort. It's important to remember, that if you take a deep breath right now, you are safe in the present moment. Nothing bad can happen if you focus on the current moment because it makes you feel safe. This idea has always brought me comfort.” Kaylie continues to reach out to students in her Club and beyond to remind them of these wellness and self-care strategies they learned to help while riding the emotional roller coaster of physical and social distancing.
SHP’s programs provide a framework for healthy relationships with peers and trusted adults, the core SEL skills needed to reduce social isolation and prevent violence. SAVE Promise Club student leaders, trusted adults, and student participants in the SHP training programs will be finding innovative ways to apply these SEL skills in this period of crisis and social distancing when across the world, humanity is feeling extra-isolated.
Ultimately, it all comes back to the relationships that create a vital sense of belonging and responsibility students and educators alike have to one another.
Contributors to this blog:
Kaylie Malloy, SAVE Promise Club National Youth Advisory Board and Senior at Chardon High School in Ohio.