December 15, 2021 – by Catherine Schumacher, CEO of Public Education Partners & Dr. Kerry Sease, Medical Director for the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy
The holiday season is upon us and American Education Week (November 15-19) and Thanksgiving Week have just concluded. As such, we believe that there is no better time to celebrate and express gratitude for the people who are working tirelessly in our classrooms, school buildings, and administrative offices to meet the complex needs of the children in our public education system. At the Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health and Advocacy (part of Prisma Health’s Children’s Hospital) and Public Education Partners, we are proud to support the innovative, evidence-based efforts of Greenville County Schools to meet the needs of the whole child—academically, socially, and emotionally. Education has many facets, and we are very grateful to be part of a community that values and invests in all of them.
It goes without saying that the last year and a half has upended our community’s classrooms, and the experiences that children have been having within them. At the same time, the pandemic has transformed the working environment for teachers and administrators, introducing new protocols designed to keep students and staff safe and healthy, while ensuring continued academic progress.
That is a tall order, especially at a time when almost every decision is questioned and often criticized.
Both the Bradshaw Institute and Public Education Partners believe that the definition of “healthy” extends beyond the physical, and that the essential learning that happens in our schools goes beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. We both champion research-based programs that have demonstrated positive outcomes for children, especially vulnerable ones who have to overcome the mental and emotional impacts of poverty, racism, or other social ills that too often mark the difference between kids who will thrive, and those who will struggle in school.
Indeed, in its most recent guidance, the American Academy of Pediatrics intentionally included behavioral and mental health as a priority for student and educator well-being. Greenville County Schools has distinguished itself by recognizing the urgency of student and staff emotional and mental health. A mental health provider is on site at every school, thanks to a collaboration with the Greater Greenville Mental Health Center. District staff are being trained to recognize and respond to troubling student behaviors, absences, and course performance not necessarily with punishment, but with thoughtful assessment of the root causes of the problem, in partnership with parents. Community collaborations then help address those root causes, which can include anything from an undiagnosed health issue like asthma to housing insecurity to food insecurity to the loss of a loved one. Students are also learning age-appropriate strategies to express themselves and their emotions in a safe and constructive way, manage stress, and set goals.
This is social-emotional learning, and it represents one of the most important investments that we can make in the future of our communities. If students aren’t emotionally ready to learn, then no academic curriculum is going to reach them. And when we serve our most vulnerable students well, we serve all students better.
The mental and emotional well-being of our educators is also essential. Greenville County Schools has invested in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides teachers, administrators, and staff with access to a range of supports, including counseling. Interest in these services is robust, with nearly 6,800 visits to the EAP portal in the last year. The District has also provided an Educator Wellness Series that offers tools and practices for managing anxiety, mindfulness, and resilience. When teachers are emotionally healthy, then they can serve students more effectively, and they are more likely to remain in the classroom from year to year—which is essential at a time when enrollment in our college teacher programs is declining. We need to take care of the educators we have, so that they can take care of our students.
We are grateful for one of Greenville’s best assets: a public school district that is constantly adapting to meet the emerging needs of students, families, and staff. We encourage you to learn more about the power of social-emotional learning to improve academic outcomes for all Greenville County Schools students, and to introduce and nurture the “soft skills” that we know they will need as adults.
Finally, we ask that every member of this community reach out to the educators in your circle and offer your thanks and support for their tireless investment in our most precious resource: the children of Greenville County.
“Grateful to support the mental and social-emotional health of students and educators” was published as an OpEd in The Greenville News on Sunday, November 21, 2021.
The Elevating Teachers blog is a platform designed to elevate educator voices. It’s a space to share stories and tips for maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing in and out of the classroom.
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