Rollercoaster start to the year puts social-emotional learning at the forefront for SC schools

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Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 8:34 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After a summer of looking forward to a more traditional school year, a kindergarten class was forced to quarantine twice in the first couple of months of the year.

“This year has been a different start than normal years because we are not in a normal situation. And, I think it’s dangerous to say we are. It is unusual. It is traumatic in many cases. It is still very disruptive with quarantines,” said former South Carolina teacher of the year Sarah Gams.

According to the CDC, disruptions in learning and changes in routine can take a toll on the mental health of young learners. To help make sure students are learning life and work skills that go beyond reading, math, and science, the South Carolina Department of Education created a social-emotional learning program manager and gave the title to Sarah Gams.

“I think as we were joyful walking in the buildings, we were also nervous. We were also really stressed. But as teachers, we knew the first thing we had to address was the social-emotional learning of our students,” Gams said.

Gams noted if a student is in the first, second, or third grade this year, they have not had a full year of consistent, in-person learning.

“I know with a kindergarten class, they were in school [and] things were rocking and rolling. They were building these classroom procedures and then they were quarantined. Then 10 days later, they were rocking and rolling again and then the same class was quarantined again.” she said. “So, it’s just very difficult to hit that routine and get those structures in place to not only teach our early learners but make sure we are taking care of them socially and emotionally.”

Gams says those skills like working in a group, learning how to go from playtime to work, and active listening are especially critical now.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey from October to November 2020, 21 percent of parents of children ages five to 12 saw an overall worsening of their kid’s mental and emotional health.

South Carolina Department of Education mental health program manager Suzanne Snyder says there are certain signs parents can look for to see if their children are feeling ok.

Snyder suggests looking for changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep.

“Watch your child while they are playing. Children will play out, especially that age up until about 10, they will play out their feelings. They don’t have the words,” Snyder said.

She also suggested making asking your child how they are doing part of the daily routine.

If you or your child are struggling with negative thoughts or feelings, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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