Mental Health Mondays – “Back to School: Navigating Social-Emotional Learning”

Mental Health Mondays - August 10 Event

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“Back to School: Navigating Social-Emotional Learning”

On Monday, August 10, Sherry Wenzel, Mental Health Services Coordinator for the School District of Lee County, and Caroline Brennan, Supervisor for Mental Health Supports and Social-Emotional Learning for Collier County Public School District discussed “Back to School: Navigating Social-Emotional Learning.” Below are key takeaways from their segment.



Students and teachers in Lee and Collier counties, in fact all over the world, had to go to virtual learning overnight due to the pandemic. We’ve found that everyone had vastly different experiences. Many students may not have had the supervision or the support at home that other students had. Many families struggled with economic issues, food insecurity or the inability to meet basic needs. Some were dealing with illness due to COVID or losing a friend or a loved one. We also may have had families that struggled with domestic violence or substance abuse. It helps us to know what our families experienced this time, so we can better prepare for what our students, families and communities needs are going to be as we open. What our country is experiencing right now is truly unprecedented. We’re living in a time with unprecedented stressors that are affecting individuals, families and communities. There is no one right answer. We know based on the ever-changing information; we’ve learned we really need to accept uncertainty.

It is important that our schools incorporate social-emotional learning, so students feel a sense of belonging after being out of school and disconnected. We want to give them opportunities to thrive in whichever learning environment they choose.

Parents and families are critical partners in helping children develop these skills. Core social-emotional competencies include: relationship skills, responsible decision making, social awareness, self-awareness, self-management

Resilience: It’s a fundamental skill as it relates to experiencing stressors and adversities. Resilience speaks to the way we bounce back, making us better equipped to overcome stressors and adversities and to achieve personal growth.

How parents can help:

  • Supply a safe and nurturing environment
  • Make sure children get enough sleep
  • Make sure they are eating healthy, exercising and practicing mindfulness
  • Support consistent rules and routines.

A lot of these may have been difficult for families to do during the stay-at-home order. There are some skills we can target to build resiliency:

  1. Make connections, preferably with people who make you feel you aren’t alone during this. Resist people who create negative energy. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Plan one and one time with your child. The presence of one loving and supportive adult really provides children the opportunity to develop the vital coping skills they need to deal with stressful situations. It also empowers them to seek guidance when they are going through difficulties.
  2. Try to look at the positive side and have a hopeful outlook. It empowers you to expect good things to happen. Dr. Becky Bailey says the more we focus on, the more we draw. Help children to focus on what they have, rather than what they lost. We do need to acknowledge their loss and disappointments. Gently guide them to understanding the opportunities it has brought to them.
  3. Resist rescuing. We must find ways to give children exposure to age and development-appropriate challenges and risks, even if it seems too hard for them. Having the courage to do something challenging is often more important than the outcome.
  4. Problem-solving skills. Instead of solving problems for them, give them the language and the steps to solve problems on their own. Say things like, “How can we fix this?” “What have you done before that has worked?” “How can we take this big problem and break it down to little pieces?” Teach them how to write down the pros and cons of different situations.
  5. Gratitude is tied to happiness, and it can lead to neuro pathways to be able to fight negativity, remain optimistic, name things that are controllable and uncontrollable, and to support hope and confidence. How do we build gratitude? One way is to let children help others by volunteering or helping a friend. The other ways are things like writing thank you letters. Thank people for having a positive and meaningful impact on your life. Talk with your child each day about things they experienced and appreciated throughout the day. Keep a gratitude journal to write down the things that you have gratitude for and appreciate. You can go back and look, and it helps to remind us what is important. The Hugging Tree: a Story about Resilience is a story about a tree that grows despite difficulties. It suggests the potential we all have to thrive.



As we return to school, whether in person or virtually, we have a checklist of things that could be helpful for you and your child as we return. What does that look like for our children and students?

The checklist walks you through what you can do, including videos and tips for wearing facemasks and social distancing and how things will be different. We are asking all our families to make sure your child is not sick each morning. If they are sick, please don’t send them to school.

Talk to children about how school will look different. Desks will be spread out. Younger children need to learn to maintain physical distance.

Find out how your children are feeling. Anticipate behavior changes like excessive crying our irritation, excessive worry or sadness. How are they eating? How are they sleeping? There is a link to the CDC (Center for Disease Control)  for signs about what to watch for.

There is a spot on the checklist for parents to put in who to contact if your child is having issues such as your school social worker, counselor, psychologist. There are services at the school level. Please reach out to your school if concerned about mental health issues.

Self-care. It is high anxiety to send your children to school. We want to make sure parents are taking care of themselves as well.

If your child will be attending school with virtual learning: The CDC recommends parents and students attend school meetings to connect with the school and school environment. Create a schedule and stick with it. If your child is doing Lee Home Connect, you’ll have an actual schedule. Lee Virtual is not so structured.

When you are learning from home, how to you help with social-emotional connections? Teams and church activities should be encouraged. Find out ways for the teacher and student to check in.



Collier County Public Schools

The Schools District of Lee County




Q: Young kids’ attention span is hard, what is best for that?

Sherry: Have a set schedule and a set place for school that isn’t where they play video games. Give them small breaks where they can get outside and run around.

Caroline: We are having Julie Frizzi of Powerful You who will help students with breathing instruction and mindfulness so we can help them refocus. We want them to do deep breathing and stretching so they can stop, re-energize and refocus. It works for adults, too.


Q: Can people out of state access the websites? Seems like you have useful information that applies to all children.

Caroline: Of course! Sherry is in Lee and I’m Collier County, and we share everything. People can feel free to use and borrow resources from wherever they are.