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The Crisis Underscores the Need to Treat Students as Whole People

In the wake of the virus, we will need to pay more attention to students' feelings.

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If you are a parent, or an educator like me, you are justifiably worried about the impact COVID-19 is having on those we love — particularly on our kids, amid the turmoil of nationwide school closures.

Parents are struggling to accommodate for forced homeschooling. Teachers are scrambling to adjust for on-line learning. And everyone is wondering how long this new normal will go on, and what the long-term impact will be on our physical, emotional, and mental health.

Clearly, this is what's on everyone's minds today, including our students. Truth is, talking about how this major life-altering event makes us feel is not only what we want to talk about, it's what we need to talk about. To ignore the angst, fear, and uncertainty we are feeling, would be a disservice to ourselves, our students, and to the educative process itself.

Hopefully in the near future we'll be able to say our COVID-19 days were an anomaly. But what about the long-term impact of stressful events? Can anyone who lived through 9/11 honestly say that it didn't alter your world-view forever?

The fact is, we (kids and adults) live in a constant state of stress. There's just no escape anymore. Bullied kids don't get to leave that trauma at school at the end of the day. It follows them home. It follows them everywhere thanks to social media and smart phones. Today's students believe it is only a matter of time before a mass shooting takes place at their own school.

Such burdens on our kids weigh heavily on the adults in their lives, teachers and parents alike. So when the dust settles on this latest crisis, and everything returns to normal, what then?

First, let me remind you of what "normal" looks like now: In the past decade, the rate of teen depression increased by 60 percent. Experts attribute this in part to the use of social media — and its resulting side-effect of decreased socialization. Another major source of stress and anxiety for students is the pressure to succeed academically and get into a good college.

According to The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, teen suicide has increased by 56 percent in recent years, spurring experts to declare a youth mental health crisis.

2018 saw the deadliest number of school shootings in our nation's history, with 105 incidents of gun violence on campuses, resulting in 61 deaths and 91 injuries. Most school-shooters are youths themselves, typically targeting their own school. Active shooter drills have become a 'normal' school experience. Concern and scrutiny has been placed recently on the value of this practice vs. the resulting trauma on kids. Our current political climate has crept into our schools in the form of increased incidents of bullying, racism, and school-related hate crimes.

There is a silver lining, however. The Emotion Revolution, as Yale professor Marc Brackett coined it, is starting to take root in our nation's education system, albeit unbeknownst to many parents. Decades of research on the science of learning and the important role emotions play in how we humans learn and process information has finally caught up with what most teachers have always known — kids need more than academics to navigate successfully through this complex world.

Educator-speak for this concept is Social Emotional Learning, or SEL for short. In simple terms, it's about treating a student as a whole person, emotions and all, and teaching the skills they need to manage their inner lives, behaviors, relationships, and decisions; the skills we all need to lead happy, healthy, successful lives.

For parents, this is the perfect opportunity to learn more about SEL successes and why you should demand that your child's school make SEL a priority, and incorporate these practices in home learning. Visit these websites to learn more: SEL4CA.org, EQuipOurKids.org, CASEL.org. March 27 marks the first annual International SEL Day: Join the Emotion Revolution in education! Learn more at SELday.org

When the Time of Corona is behind us — the schools reopen and we return to normal — please take this opportunity to share with kids, parents, and policy-makers that what Aristotle believed is even more profound today — educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all.

Dr. Amy Cranston is the Executive Director of the California Social-Emotional Learning Alliance and the author of Creating Social and Emotional Learning Environments. @Dr_Cranston

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