Schools emphasize group emotional learning in post-pandemic education

Young students sitting in the floor in a circle listening to their teacher

By Natalie Sarsfield

Socialization is a crucial part of child development, so when, in the midst of the pandemic, students were pulled from schools and forced into a new reality of online learning, it had an outsized impact on their mental health. More than a third of U.S. high school students report that they had poor mental health during this time. Now, K-12 schools in the United States are finding innovative methods to deal with the lingering impact.

In her New York Times story, Laura van Straaten follows W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and their recent implementation of the Crew program. The program sets out to enrich students’ social and emotional development by creating deeper connections between staff and students in safe campus spaces. Students meet daily in small groups led by teachers who received training in the program. Sometimes they talk about their experiences and feelings and other times, they focus more on academic struggles.

“The news we’ve heard from both school leaders and district leaders has been that they’ve never seen this level of emotional stress in kids.”

In Tuscon, Arizona, Sunnyside Unified Chief Academic Officer Pam Betten is also using Crew. Out of the five middle schools, three have Crew as an elective while two have mandatory participation four times a week. Crew already appears to be helping students and teachers create more dialogue around social and emotional learning.

Another impact on mental health is being addressed through the Crew approach in Chicago: gun violence. In Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood, Polaris Charter Academy has used the Crew model since the school’s founding in 2007. The school’s data found that more than 90 percent of its students have been directly affected by gun violence.

“When they are struggling with what is happening beyond the walls of our school, the daily Crew meetings help them feel empowered to ‘be the change they want to see’ in this community.”

With the pandemic leaving detrimental effects on youth mental health and with children facing social issues like gun violence and poverty, programs like Crew introduce a new way of emotional learning that can provide healing for youth.

Read this important story and learn about the Crew program here.


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