Continuous Learning: Social Emotional Learning and Support

Continuous Learning: Social Emotional Learning and Support
Shawnee Mission School District

What has Social Emotional Learning and Support looked like as the Shawnee Mission School District engaged in Continuous Learning?

In this article:

  • Social Emotional Learning and Support Resources for the Summer
  • Continuous Learning- An Elementary Social Worker shares her story
  • Continuous Learning – Secondary Social Workers share their story

Social Emotional Learning and Support Resources:

Even though school is not in session, a number of supportive resources continue to be available to students and their families:

Caren Howes, Social Worker at Briarwood and Christa McAuliffe Elementary Schools Provides Crisis Support

Early in the pandemic, Caren Howes found herself supporting a family that lost a grandparent due to COVID-19. Because COVID-19 was an emerging crisis, resources were limited at the time.

“While grief is always difficult there was a new layer that I have certainly never encountered in my lifetime,” Howes noted. “I am thankful I have had training in the area of death, dying, and grief and was able to put together resources for this family as well as be someone they could talk to and process with.”

Howes also made an early, “critical” step to communicate with families with children who were already in crisis as stay-at-home orders were implemented. This was an urgent need, since typical discussions to help students and families at school could not take place. Howes worked directly with families to find additional support and worked collaboratively with families and students to come up with coping skills students could use while at home.

With the impact of staying at home, many family members and staff members also worked with Howes to develop plans and skill sets to cope. Many of them were families she had not worked with previously. Some examples of skills they worked to implement included practicing mindfulness and working on family dialogue.

“I absolutely believe the silver lining is that addressing these issues and working on them can make families stronger in the long run,” Howes expressed. 

Students and teachers also took time to strengthen their Social Emotional Learning skills by having Howes attend their class meetings when school was in session. While there, Howes discussed Social Emotional Learning components and read books to the class. She also met with Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) to provide support and discuss student needs with groups of teachers

Howes also set up a website to help family and staff members connect to helpful resources. Though the work of social workers is often less visible due to confidentiality, Howes said she hopes members of the community know they are working “extremely hard” to support students, families, and staff.

“The intensity and importance of the work has not diminished in any way,” Howes added. “The support we provide is critical now more than ever.”

Gwyn Heidrick and Emily Dorothy, Social Workers at Shawnee Mission North High School Meeting with Students and Meeting Essential Needs

While a lot changed as Continuous Learning began, the focus of Heidrick and Dorothy’s work remained the same. Every day they worked to remove barriers that make it difficult to access educational curriculum and form positive connections within the school community.

The move to Continuous Learning just required some rethinking in how this work could be done, Dorothy said.

One of the very first actions Dorothy and Heidrick took was to establish ways to meet with students via WebEx. They worked on ways to ensure confidentiality with meetings with students and obtain parental consent. The social workers also made sure to compile information for families about community resources, including everything from how to obtain WiFi and hotspots, food, and updated lists of general resources.

“We continued to talk to students and families about many of the same things we did in our schools,” Dorothy added. “We talked to them about resources, coping skills, maintaining positive relationships, and managing symptoms of mental health diagnoses.”

The challenges were heightened, however, by the fact that some resources and connections were no longer available in the same way to students and families.

“We worked with them on developing new plans and skills accessible within their homes,” Dorothy noted.

Through it all, Heidrick and Dorothy extended their thanks to numerous individuals and organizations in the community that have supported students and families. Their gratitude extends to their school PTSA, Booster Clubs, community partners, and their colleagues in social work.

“Thank you to students for the resiliency they have shown,” Dorothy expressed. “Thank you to the families for their patience, flexibility, and support of students and staff. Thank you to our amazing school staff of which we are a part. With the continued uncertainty of our world and constantly changing rues and expectations, making sure our students have skills to remain healthy and productive is especially important. We are so grateful to be a part of a school team that understands that completely and continues to focus on the overall wellbeing of students.”