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Post-Pandemic Schools Need More Than Academics

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since we started the scramble of figuring out how to send our kids to school during a pandemic. As we again approach the fall, I can’t help but flashback to the whirlwind of home school, virtual classes, hybrid models, and modified traditional brick-and-mortar sessions … like Dorothy said when she landed in OZ, “I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore!” 

While many parents feel more secure in sending their children back to school this 2021 school year, there is no denying that the educational landscape has forever changed. Students who were already at-risk academically may have suffered from the decreased attention of virtual and hybrid learning and those who were otherwise doing well in all subject areas may feel less confident after a year outside of the norm. Either way, now more than ever before, all students will be arriving at classrooms and playgrounds with an at-risk label. And I am not talking just academics here. I am focused on the foundation of it all - their mental and emotional health.  

As we all shift into the schooling method that feels best for our families, undoubtedly the pandemic has left a social and emotional footprint on us all - perhaps in nuanced ways on the surface or, for some, in subsurface ways that manifest in emotional overwhelm and survival behaviors. These implications require attention, both in conversation and in action, which starts at home and continues at school.

The Key To School Preparedness 

We are wired to be in close proximity with other humans, and not only did the pandemic thwart this basic attachment need but it made it so we were required to be six feet apart or seen through a screen. Add to that socioeconomic shifts, grief from losing loved ones, the upheaval of our basic routines, and the whirling uncertainty, the layers run deep. 

You may wonder how this all affects student preparedness. Well, when our children feel safe, connected, and powerful, they can then shift from survival to listening, focusing, and learning. And, for many of us, the pandemic was just the opposite. We felt unsafe, disconnected, and powerless. Until we address the trauma and underlying emotions that manifested from the pandemic, it is unrealistic and unfair to ask our children to focus on academics alone. 

Post-pandemic children have a lot to adjust to. And the tricky thing is, there is no cookie-cutter response because the mental health of our children is not one-dimensional. There is a spectrum of feelings and emotional stress taking a seat in the classroom this year.  

  • Children may feel uncomfortable revising their schedules from virtual or hybrid back to the classroom.
  • Older students may feel ill-prepared for the next year of curriculum, which may produce feelings of overwhelm and/or anxiety. 
  • The safety precautions taken last school year may have imprinted children to be wary of playing too close without distance, masks, shields, or plexiglass.
  • Students who loved being at home with their parents may feel sad and scared to go back to a classroom without the comforts of their safe base.

And this just suggests a few possibilities. 

All this to say, parents and educators must be prepared to offer a different kind of education this year, one that is laced with more love and connection … one that places emotional learning at the top of the academic list. Because it comes down to this: If we want our children to have academic success, we must first focus on their mental, social, and emotional success, dropping the pressures of benchmarks and meeting each child where they are. This may require us to look deeper than surface behaviors to the emotions that are fueling them. Because when we recognize and validate a child’s experience, they develop trust and feel safe enough to thrive. 

Social-Emotional Learning, Home To School

Social and emotional curriculum may or may not be available at your child’s school. Here are some ways to be prepared and get started now:

1. Start with your own curriculum at home.

  •  GENM home lessons for an official program.
  • Develop a Calming Corner with your child to playfully teach about emotions and calming strategies. Spend five to ten minutes each day for connection and doing a feelings check-in. Encourage your child to visit the space during pleasant and unpleasant emotions, and model using the Calming Corner yourself (because adults benefit from time-ins too!).
  • Create daily rituals such as pulling a PeaceMakers mantra card to set intentions and to create family affirmations. 
  • Have some fun with the Make It Stick card deck, which offers practical and playful activities to help your child manage emotions and navigate social situations.  

2. Ask your child’s school if they have an SEL curriculum, and how you can support it at home.

  • Call your child’s school and ask them about SEL options. You can use this customizable template to send a letter or email to your child’s school. 
  • Open the conversation with your child’s school and ask them what their SEL lessons are like and what you could do as an extension of these activities at home. 
  • If your child’s school does not have an SEL program, talk to the admin, the district, or the classroom teacher about the success you’ve seen using GENM tools, and suggest they look into the SEL lessons.

As parents, we are our child’s first teacher. Educators were thrown a curveball as they were shuttled into virtual instruction last year, and now they will be acclimating back to the classroom, offering much-needed in-person connection. We’ve all been impacted by this pandemic, and by teaming up with your child’s teacher to support the emotional intelligence of your child, and their classroom as a whole, everyone will benefit emotionally and academically.

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larger photo of blog article author Traci Esposito

Early childhood educator and mom, Traci discovered Generation Mindful online, and after having a great experience, reached out to us to share her story. This blog was her share, and because she felt so strongly about GENM's mission, Traci wrote a few more articles for us as a guest contributor as well! Click on her name to read them all. Thank you, Traci!!! You are a Change-maker. We are grateful to you.


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