The Importance of Social Emotional Wellness and How Various Camden Schools Are Tackling it

CAMDEN, NJ – Tracy Foedisch, one of the founders of the Hope Community Charter School, has always been aware of the large undocumented population in Camden. But she says the pandemic helped put the issue in a new light.

While working with staff, resources were made available for the school’s more than 130 students. Virtual meetings, but also secure face-to-face visits, were set up to support them during the difficult year.

“In a large number of households I noticed, among other things, the group of residents who are confronted with English language skills or who are afraid to use services, for example because they are not documented,” Foedisch told TAPinto Camden.

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“I think this is a door that was opened for us … something that I saw more when I started going home,” said Foedisch.

Hope has partnered with organizations like ImmSchools to train staff to better meet student needs as they increase. The school also received $ 100,000 from the Camden Education Fund’s (CEF) new Open Doors / Safe Classroom funding program.

The program, which was set up to help schools better cope with the hurdles of the global pandemic, provided a total of $ 800,000 to: Camden City School District, Camden’s Promise, LEAP Academy University Charter School, Hope Community Charter School , Freedom Prep Charter School, KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, Mastery Schools of Camden and Uncommon Camden Prep.

The scholarships were announced in June and the schools were informed of the prizes in August which will help in the following ways:

Operations: Thermometer kiosks, plexiglass barriers, signs for social distances, PPE

Academics: Online learning platforms and materials for students

Socio-emotional support: Social Workers and Parent Ambassadors

Equity: Devices specifically designed for students with special needs, dedicated platforms for students with special needs and English learners

“The grant obligations are tailored to the individual needs of each school. CEF believes that network leaders, in consultation with staff and families, are best placed to make decisions about how to safely reopen to their school communities, ”the local foundation said. “The purpose of the grant is to offset additional costs incurred in responding to the pandemic, whether it is a purely virtual, personal or hybrid model.”

According to Foedisch, the Hope Community Charter School used the funds to hire a new social worker, provide more equipment for the students, and connect more families to the community’s resources.

Although the school continues to listen to student needs, she said nothing fits in with face-to-face interactions.

“This building is big and empty. There are … “she said, pausing to increase the workforce.” One to five people here and we’re in different offices. The joy is gone. You don’t have all this noise. Children run up to you and hug you … I know this is not possible now, but of course we miss it. “

For its part, KIPP says that while serving its 1,700+ students, the Renaissance Schools Network has also recognized the mental health of parents

“When we shut down in March, we thought it would take a couple of weeks, maybe a month. So it took some time to find long-term solutions to all of the students’ needs. It was just as important to reach out to parents who, like all of us, suffer from quarantine fatigue, “said Taylor Wegman, one of the schools’ social workers.

The school was able to use the CEF grants to hire an additional social worker for the KIPP team, which now has seven employees.

“This social worker is a ninth grade classroom counselor, which may reduce the number of students in each counseling,” said KIPP spokeswoman Jessica Shearer, who said the social workers on the family support team are doubling down to support families cut to size. “Counselors are leading participants in connecting with students who are absent from school. This person also works with the Chronic Absenteeism team as these students in particular face the greatest challenges, be it mental health or family challenges. “

Ranjana Reddy, director of special projects for KIPP, said the flexibility of CEF grants allows them to rotate when needed. Once they were able to meet the needs of the laptop, they switched to headphones, for example, to create better learning environments when multiple students study under the same roof.

“We thought about teaching from home as well. That’s why we have a second monitor for teachers that we can use to better guide Zoom classes. We thought, “How can we help our teachers react faster and give directions? It turned out to be very critical,” Reddy said.

The Camden City School District will use the CEF grants in a number of ways.

These include thermometers, a new professional online program for K-12 students, and additional technology for students with special needs like text readers.

“The district will use these grant funds for operational, academic planning and equity needs,” a spokesman said. “For distance learning to be successful, all students must have access to digital content. Despite the Chromebook, some students with special needs faced challenges that could have been mitigated with specialized devices such as text readers. “

The district has a time span specifically devoted to social and emotional activities, school counselors assigned to virtual sessions, “therapy boxes” made available to students to create a better environment for interacting with clinicians, and that on the professional development of the parents-oriented program “in the house” on distance learning obstacles.

“To understand that social isolation can lead to depression, poor sleep quality and managerial dysfunction, we were able to provide students with a safe space where their social and emotional needs can be met. [It] is of paramount importance to the Camden City School District staff, ”said Ms. Yalonda Moore, youth ministry director at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Since the pandemic first forced school buildings to close, various district teams – including Family Operation Coordinators and the Attendance Team – have worked to develop an effective virtual platform for student interaction, according to Moore.

“There are also frequent phone calls, emails, text messages, safe house calls, and push-ins in Google classrooms to give a student a thorough review,” she continued.

A major problem for the district is still the low attendance. Around 25% of the more than 6,800 CCSD students do not register in the class due to average daily data.

“Presence is important. I can’t say or underline enough, attendance issues, ”Superintendent Katrina McCombs said at her opening at the school board meeting on Tuesday. “It is important that students attend class every day and that they attend class throughout the day. Failure to attend your courses will have significant consequences, including dropping out, referrals, and failing grades. I cannot stress the importance of ensuring that every student, regardless of grade, goes to school every day. “

The LEAP Academy University Charter School directors have a family health and wellness center that caters to issues affecting the approximately 1,5600 students.

Stephanie Weaver-Rogers, Chief Operations Officer, noted that the grant will partially cover the Let’s Go Learn Program, which supports English learning and special education students.

“We also use a responsive classroom as an approach to providing students with social and emotional support in the classrooms. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is a set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors required to understand and manage emotions, set positive goals, empathize with others, establish positive relationships, and solve problems effectively “, said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago. Founder and CEO of LEAP.

Funding is also provided for COVID-19 logs, such as purchasing additional barriers, signage, and cleaning supplies.

A temperature review kiosk was also purchased.

“This grant supports our Parent Ambassador Program. The Parent Ambassadors are used to help out with bus chores when we’re in person and as extra support in schools, ”added Weaver-Rogers. “When we receive distance education, they are used to helping with meal distribution, parenting phone calls, and other parent / family support.”

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