Emotional Wellness Program helps students in Kent express their feelings during remote learning

It is an emotional rollercoaster for some families across the region adjusting to remote learning. However, no one is feeling those emotions quite like students who continue going through the impacts of the pandemic.

Students are expressing all sorts of emotions to their teachers right now as they’re learning from home. Those feelings vary from anger, happiness, frustration, exhaustion, overwhelmed, confusion.

“There’s definitely been some frustration around the level of technology and access to learning. And then for our youngest learners not being able to have hands-on materials is really difficult as well,” said Jen Hoglund, principal at George Daniel Elementary School in Kent.

The Kent School District hopes to use emotions as a learning tool. The district created an Emotional Wellness Plan as part of its Social Emotional Learning Reopening Committee. The program was designed to help students develop personal plans on how to respond to feelings and how their schools can be a helpful resource.

“It’s giving them an opportunity to share in a low pressure situation and they feel really comfortable because they’re each getting a chance to share their thoughts and share ideas with the class,” said Dakotah Sisco, second grade teacher at George Daniel Elementary School. “It’s giving them a chance to feel more comfortable with sharing things about themselves and telling the teacher and telling others some struggles that they’re going through or positive things that are happening with school.”

“I know that sometimes we want to tell someone to calm down but we’re not really providing them the tools to calm down. So we’re really starting with opening a conversation and dialogue with our students and that it’s okay to feel these strong emotions, but then we have a plan for what we do to respond,” said Hoglund.

Though classrooms are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sisco and Hoglund said students are still engaged as they navigate their new way of learning from home. Students like Daniel elementary second grader Adrien Mazariegos.

“It’s so fun that I can write a whole page. I just like writing, I like to spell my words, make them the correct side,” said Mazariegos. “I love learning new things.”

Mazariegos said he misses being in school though, and sometimes remote learning makes him tired.

“I do a lot of thinking to sometime solves some problems and my brain is tried from that,” said Mazariegos.

“We can’t teach our students and have them learn and be ready to learn unless their social emotional needs are met first,” said Sisco.

With the Emotional Wellness Program, each classroom throughout the district starts the day with a 30-minute virtual meeting. They talk freely about feelings, do a short physical activity to get kids moving and end the conversation with positive self-talk.

“So, our teachers take the students through what that plan can look like and there are fun ways to design them online and put them in a spot where they can access them when they’re feeling those feelings of overwhelm or frustration,” said Hoglund.

Every Tuesday students fill out a confidential survey to their teacher about any uncomfortable emotions they’re having.

“This tells me as a teacher or our counselor or another support staff in our school that we might need to check in with those students and make sure that they have everything they need to be successful for learning at home,” said Sisco.

“It can be really easy to get overwhelmed by the loss of learning and to think our kids are behind in reading and math. But really we have to remember we’re still in a crisis and it’s really important to address the kind of feelings that are coming up,” said Hoglund.