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Rutland High School takes on social, emotional learning

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Schools are concerned about the social and emotional recovery of students as we head toward the next school year.

In the Rutland City Public Schools, a committee is working on a curriculum for the upcoming school year. The lessons will address relationships and decision-making skills, which were heavily impacted during the pandemic while students learned remotely.

Rutland High School began implementing these curriculum changes last year, but this fall, everyone will be exposed to social and emotional learning. This includes teachers who say they also need to re-acclimate to this so-called new normal.

Rutland High School’s social and emotional committee is creating a curriculum to promote self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, and social and relationship skills.

“Isolation and with mental health issues, and really just a change, really every student lost a year of their social and emotional development,” Stacey Shortle, a school psychologist.

The students will receive these lessons through interactive activities during their flex block, much like a homeroom period, creating safe classrooms to move past the pandemic and identify students who need additional help.

“We’ve never had something to address everyone’s needs, only students who get referred because of academic challenges or social and emotional challenges,” Shortle said.

Last year’s freshman class took part in the curriculum, but this year it will be implemented for grades 9-12.

“During COVID it brought it out more than your emotional health was foremost, that was what we had to take care of and then we could look at the educational pieces,” said Gwen Hagenbarth, a math teacher at Rutland High School.

Hagenbarth is one teacher on the committee. She says students who struggle with their emotional health cannot perform well academically.

“With what we all just went through this past year and a half, it’s more important than ever that we get connected together again,” Hagenbarth said.

This means giving teachers activities and lessons to work on their own resilience.

“Models start with the teachers and it translates to students, always,” said Madeline Pritchard, an art teacher at Rutland High School.

Pritchard says teachers must be socially and emotionally available to each other in order to be there for the students.

“Especially after a year like COVID,” she said. “We’re all experiencing this uneasiness of like what does normal feel like and how do we return and in a way that supports us all?”

Last year, teacher support was provided during monthly faculty meetings. Those will continue throughout the year to check in on their personal progress and that of their students.

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