- Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School
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How are you feeling?
How can a teacher gauge how a shy six-year-old is feeling? Or, for that matter, how a proud 15-year-old is feeling? How are teachers to get a handle on the emotional health of students at a time when children and adults alike are experiencing stress, and even trauma, from the challenges of the pandemic?
At Croton-Harmon Union Free School District, the social and emotional health of students is a top priority, with the district utilizing many programs and approaches to support students.
“All teachers must approach this unique school year by meeting students where they are,” said Karen Gatto, director of pupil personnel services. “We have to take into consideration that many of our students are feeling vulnerable and may be experiencing trauma at this moment.”
Given the circumstances, Ms. Gatto said, the district is focusing on helping students to settle in and feel safe in the building, as well as to stay connected when they are at home. To that end, the district has implemented a plan whereby every student will have a “caring connection,” or faculty member who is available to them and is tracking their emotional health.
Among the supports being used are an increased number of open discussions and mindfulness sessions at the high school, a social-emotional wellness screening tool to identify students at risk and the RULER method created by the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University.
The RULER method, which stands for Recognize, Understand, Label, Express and Regulate, is designed to help students and teachers recognize and manage their feelings. It is a critical support system at Pierre Van Cortlandt Middle School and the Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School.
Through professional development on this approach, administrators, teachers and staff have learned that they, too, must begin each day by checking in with themselves and acknowledging their thoughts and emotions.
The Mood Meter is one widely used tool in the district, with students becoming accustomed to using it at a young age. At the elementary school, counselors regularly attend classes and break students into smaller groups to conduct mindfulness activities in addition to providing social/ emotional lessons.
“We recognize that this pandemic has affected each one of us and that many of our educators and staff are also dealing with a variety of emotions,” said Superintendent Dr. Deborah O’Connell. “When we discuss that social-emotional learning must be the foundation for all we do, that applies to everyone.”
While students of all ages may feel loss or uncertainty these days, high school leadership and counselors are particularly mindful of how difficult this time is for juniors and seniors.
“From academics to socializing to extracurricular activities — and of course planning for their future — our juniors and seniors are connected to the school for so much,” said Principal Laura Dubak. “We need them to know that we are there for them and are dedicated to making their experience as fulfilling and successful as possible.”