Schools Work to Give Ohio Kids a Safe Space to Learn

click to enlarge Social-emotional skills help kids learn, since they improve attendance and also decrease the need for disciplinary referrals. - (Adobe Stock)
(Adobe Stock)
Social-emotional skills help kids learn, since they improve attendance and also decrease the need for disciplinary referrals.

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio schools continue to adjust to the evolving impacts of COVID-19, which means addressing both the academic and mental-stress issues faced by students.

Playing catch-up from nearly two years of interrupted learning is a challenge in itself, said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, but the pandemic also exacerbated many students' social and emotional struggles. Those include behaviors related to coping skills, motivation and self-control. She explained that kids need a safe space in order to succeed academically.

"You know, it's Maslow's hierarchy of needs: You need to take care of basic human needs before the brain is capable of learning to its full effect," she said. "So teaching students how to get along with each other, taking care of physical needs, taking care of social-emotional needs."

Cropper said districts in Ohio are taking multiple approaches to help students, including incorporating social and emotional skills into classroom learning or adding Social-Emotional Learning as a special class. In a new survey, 72% of school district leaders said developing student' social-emotional skills is as important as building their educational knowledge.

School counselors in the survey confirmed the importance of incorporating social and emotional learning into their counseling programs. However, many are already stretched by other duties, including academic scheduling and testing.

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association, said some districts are using federal dollars made available from the American Rescue Plan to hire more support staff and specialists.

"We know that teachers and administrators, and people traditionally trained in those academic roles, just weren't equipped to be able to handle all the need," he said. "So, having additional personnel in schools that specialize in this work, so that we really are paying attention to the needs of children."

School counselors and other educational support professionals are being celebrated today as part of American Education Week.
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