Keeping a school community emotionally healthy: A multipronged approach By: Elena Suzanne Keen Elementary School Principal- Puebla American School Foundation

Of the many lessons learned during the pandemic, one of the most important has been to reach a deeper understanding of the crucial importance of constantly monitoring the emotional well-being of our staff, our students and their families.  According to the California Department of Education,  “during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) response, it is critically important to place adult and student wellness first and foremost to establish a positive, safe, and supportive learning environment” (California Department of Education, 2021).  The IB document The Learning Community describes an inclusive learning community as one that “prioritizes people and their relationships and assumes shared responsibility for learning, health and well-being” (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2018).    
The elementary department of the Puebla American School Foundation recognized from the beginning of the pandemic that the emotional well-being of our community would be vulnerable.  By outlining early on what was needed to support our community in the area of emotional health, we have been able to systematically offer a multipronged approach to ensure that our learning community has the help it needs.   We have worked arduously to keep our staff, family and student well-being as a priority.   
Enter any of our virtual classrooms early in the morning, and students are actively participating in their morning meetings which focus on developing a spirit of community in each group.  As the year has progressed, students have taken on more agency in these class get-togethers.  Student volunteers decide with their classmates on the interactive activities that will take place; digital hands are raised, and ideas, opinions and thoughts offered.  Our students claim ownership of this time as they begin their day by interacting, engaging and communicating with each other.      
Throughout the week, our talented team of counselors hold SEL sessions for our students entitled, “Learning to Be” that focus on identifying and managing emotions among other skills.  These sessions have supported our students as they share their feelings and thoughts and learn to better understand and express their emotions.  Our counselors also created a separate virtual space for each grade level in which both students and parents enter to check out information and activities related to emotional health and support.  Within these virtual spaces, our students and parents reach out to the counselors when they need extra one-on-one support. Streaming sessions on mindfulness and relaxation for our students are also offered weekly as part of the students’ specialist classes. 
We value the important role that our parents play in their children’s growth and development, and we realize how our families have been impacted in multiple ways throughout the pandemic. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) writes, “it is very important to remember that children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events” (Sievering, 2020). To support our parents in providing this guidance, counselors host weekly sessions on topics such as dealing with depression and parental burnout.   In addition to these weekly parental get-togethers, we send out short videos and infographics detailing pertinent information, suggestions and resources for our parents. (Del Castillo & Torres, 2021)
Sadly, grief has been a constant during the pandemic. Our counselors are available to provide grief counseling for our students and their parents.  This counseling can focus on the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job or relationship.  Surveys to gauge how our students and families are feeling in general are sent out periodically, and frequent check-ins take place with telephone calls, virtual meetings and emails for our students and families identified as struggling. 
Our staff has not been unaffected by the pandemic.  Grief counseling is available to them as well as mental health wellness check-in sessions during our in-service days and planning times.  Virtual classrooms offering information and tips on self-care for our staff have been created.  We have also continued to have virtual staff get-togethers to allow us to engage and interact with each other, mourn when necessary, celebrate our achievements and give support.  
It is essential that our staff realize their importance for our team and how they and their tremendous work are valued. Our leadership team sends out weekly Monday reminders   celebrating our work, and personalized notes recognizing our staff’s unique individual talents as well.   The agenda for our weekly leadership team meetings includes time to discuss which faculty members might be struggling and how to best reach out and support them.  
Whether it seemed fast or slow, a year has now passed since our schools transitioned to on-line classes.  As we move closer to reopening our schools to return with the hybrid learning model, it is imperative that we continue to implement our best practices to support our community’s mental health and well-being.  
Works Cited
California Department of Education. (2021). Social and Emotional Support in Distance Learning. Retrieved from

Del Castillo, J. M., & Torres, I. (2021). Parent Burnout [PDF]. Puebla: Puebla American School Foundation.

Sievering, K. (2020). Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19. In National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from,reduce%20the%20risk%20of%20illness.
The Learning Community [PDF]. (2018, October). Cardiff: International Baccalaureate Organization