While the pandemic has certainly highlighted the demand for social emotional learning in public school curriculum, there has always been a need to resource schools and teachers with the skills they need to be able to recognize the warning signs of a student struggling and attune to their individual needs.
To be certain, the pandemic has not been easy on teenagers. Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General warned that adolescents are confronting an exacerbated mental health crisis as a result of the many challenges experienced by their generation, including COVID-19. The report cited that emergency room visits for suicide attempts increased 51 percent for adolescent girls. According to the American Psychology Association, 81% of teenagers reported to have experienced an increased level of stress during the pandemic.
The Charlton School has been working with adolescents exhibiting disruptive behaviors related to mental health conditions for more than 125 years because public school systems have always been under-resourced with respect to social emotional learning and mental health services for students. In response to this critical need, Charlton is eager to intensify their trainings for emotional wellness, managing anxiety and depression, attunement and more to staff and school districts throughout the Northeast region.
“All of our students are required to take Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as a class, and it is integrated into the Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for our students with emotionally based disabilities,” said Tina Crego, Director of Education. The goal of SEL is to help students in two areas, emotion regulation and the development of social skills. However, the importance of the class reaches beyond those two focuses. “SEL provides students with a safe place during the school day to come in, ground themselves and express how they are feeling. They connect with their peers, gain confidence, and explore their own thoughts during class discussions and through various projects and activities,” said Sarah McCabe, the Social Emotional Learning Coordinator at The Charlton School. McCabe also meets with teachers to provide support when they have difficulty managing behaviors in their classrooms, touches base with all three therapists to ensure communication, and monitors progress for the students’ IEPs. “Many high schools integrate some social-emotional learning into their school-wide curriculum. However, the Charlton School believes explicit instruction on these critical skills need as much focus as academic learning,” said Crego. Charlton is likely to be the only high school in the region that provided an SEL class in this manner and on this scale.
By adolescence, not only are youth more independent but also more resistant to change compared to early childhood, which can amplify feelings of loneliness and alienation. “Our role as staff is to help teach and model positive self regulation through everyday interactions and connections. The consistency and focus on this approach lays the foundation for the development of these crucial skills while instilling connection and security in our relationships with students,” said Alex Capo, Executive Director. By working together with public school districts and nonprofits, Capo says we can do more to support adolescents with the academic and therapeutic services they need to thrive in life.
This story was also published by The Saratogian, read the article HERE