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Jore: Pandemic Generation: Teaching kids to cope during the COVID-19 crisis | COMMENTARY

Our nation is experiencing concurrent multiple crises — global pandemic, economic fallout, and the nationwide mobilization for racial justice. No one is left untouched. All have experienced some level of loss: loss of income, health, loved ones, social freedoms, even peace of mind.

If we as adults are struggling under the weight of this stress, how are our kids doing?

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Our school-aged kids are facing extraordinary stressors (loss of daily routine, friends, social support, sports, events, activities). Some are missing major milestones, experiencing the trauma of losing a loved one, or the loss of family income and stability that adds the stressor of potentially not having enough food or mental and physical security.

How do we address these mental health threats that students are facing? Many experts believe there are a set of key skills that allow students to build resiliency.

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Defined by The Collaborative of Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning (SEL) is considered the ability to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Even before the pandemic, educators were realizing that these mental health barometers dramatically impact students' academic success, classroom management, future employment and prevention of high-risk behaviors. As the pandemic continues, increasing the likelihood of long-term effects on the mental health of our kids, the need for SEL focused programs and practices is rapidly growing.

In “Roadmap to Re-opening School”, CASEL writes: “Academic learning and cognitive growth are inextricably linked with social and emotional development and environments. For example, students learn best when they are focused, find information relevant and engaging, and are actively involved in learning. This requires them to have a ready and focused brain, use emotional regulation skills, and also be in an environment where they feel physically and emotionally safe, connected, included, and supported.

SEL provides a solid foundation for children to be academically successful and establish healthy practices that will positively impact their current and future mental health.

Where do we find SEL programs? CASEL has completed several program guides over the years, (2003, and 2013) rating the effectiveness of 80 programs; some designed to be implemented within the schools by educators, and some programs conducted outside the school system to include parents and community members in its implementation. Harvard Graduate School of Education released an in-depth guide in 2017 comparing the top 25 evidence-based SEL programs. One of the programs listed was Girls on the Run.

This year, Girls on the Run of Central Maryland celebrated it’s 10th year of service empowering girls with social and emotional skills to achieve their goals. Our research-based curriculum was named one of the top three afterschool social emotional learning programs by Harvard University. At GOTR of Central Maryland, we believe the skills practiced in each lesson are essential, especially at this time of extraordinary challenges, which is exactly why we remain determined to make this program accessible to every girl in Howard and Carroll counties.

Since schools have closed, GOTR of Central Maryland has adapted our curriculum to provide options for girls to participate either virtually or in a small group at a safe distance outdoors (according to each family’s preference). Financial assistance is available.

Our kids need us. All adults in the life of a child are essential at the table of collaboration right now: parents, educators, neighbors, and community partners. As the 2020-2021 school year begins, kids need more than just academic support (and we cannot put even more responsibilities on the shoulders of our hero teachers). Kids need to feel free to ask questions and given space to process loss and fear and other complex emotions they may be feeling. They need to feel connected to and supported by their peers and caring adults. They need tools and opportunities to practice healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress in these trying times.

These are perilous and uncertain times. Let’s give our kids every chance to process, connect and grow in this challenging season.

Lynn Jore is Carroll County coordinator for Girls on the Run of Central Maryland. She writes from Hampstead. To learn more about Girls on the Run, visit visit gotrcentralmd.org. Registration is open and volunteer and fundraising opportunities are available.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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