By DSJ Catholic Schools

There is a tendency to look at students only as children who are being molded by the academic lessons they receive in the classroom to become successful adults. However, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of developing social, and emotional skills like self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making during children’s formative years.

Students are missing out on the life skills that come from working toward performing live for their families. School dances where children safely navigate new social situations have been cancelled. Sports seasons where children learn how to be part of a team have been lost. First-year middle and high schoolers are not fully experiencing being in their new positions, and 8th graders and seniors are missing out on their normal privileges. Most importantly, they cannot be with their friends like they used to and must build relationships in new ways. Though schools actively try to find safe and appropriate alternatives, it is safe to say that school is still not the same.

At the beginning of the school year, the Diocese of San José Department of Catholic Schools virtually gathered all our educators to brainstorm on how we can further support our students given the challenges of the pandemic. Educators discussed how it is next-to-impossible to expect teaching and learning to occur in a crisis like the pandemic without first attending to the student’s emotions. As a result of these fruitful discussions, all Diocese of San José schools have now incorporated social and emotional support programs to ensure the holistic support of our students.

Ms. Hannah Thompson, a 4th and 5th-grade teacher at Saint Joseph Mountain View, shared, “students can’t learn if they don’t feel supported.” She continues to say that the Diocese, “targets students as a whole child, not just somebody who is a score on a test, but as somebody whose emotional well-being is just as important.”

One day a week, St. Joseph School in Mountain View has a social/emotional learning class with the entire school, where they address specific topics in an age-appropriate manner. On an individual level, Ms. Thompson has made her classroom a safe space where the relationship with her students is built on trust. Through this relationship, she invites her students to do prayer intentions at least once a week. Students can have their worries and anxieties heard and shared among their peers; students can share prayers aloud or anonymously. Outside of these prayer intentions, Ms. Thompson makes it a point to make sure her students feel validated. Stemming from her own experiences in school, Ms. Thompson does check-ins at the beginning and end of every lesson to find out if students require more time to review a lesson, or if they understand it and are ready to proceed to the next part.

Taking time to understand how they are doing with the work and their personal lives has allowed Ms. Thompson to continue to provide her students with the safe space they need to communicate any concerns. She will be continuing this work well after the pandemic because she has seen her students grow and open up to the school community.

Another teacher doing significant social and emotional support with her students is Mrs. Jennifer Lecheler, a middle school teacher at Holy Family School in San Jose. She shares that “one of the biggest parts of social, emotional learning is getting to know your students.” Mrs. Lecheler spends significant time listening to her students and making sure she hears and responds to what they have to say. She explains further that properly listening and address student concerns directly ties into having respect for them as individuals with their own opinions and thoughts. “So often we focus on teaching students how to respect adults, but they need to see that respect is reciprocated back to them,” Mrs. Lecheler shares.

As Mrs. Lecheler continues to make her classroom a safe space, the respect she has for the students, and the students’ respect for her, has led to over 60% of her students returning for in-person learning.

Outside of the classroom, all schools maintain communication with parents. Family involvement has always been crucial in ensuring that parents and guardians can also support topics discussed and shared in the classroom at home. Teachers share with parents and guardians the positive words regarding the great work and participation of their children, and items with which they may be struggling.

It has become clear that helping children understand and manage emotions, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and making responsible decisions plays a critical role in preparing them to meet the demands of school and of life beyond school. Having community involvement ensures that every aspect of the child is addressed.

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