May 27, 2020

Uncertainty abounds over what the 2020-2021 school year will look like. Will students be able to go into their brick and mortar classrooms? How will classrooms and hallways be set up to ensure social distancing? Will we have to rely on remote learning again? Regardless of the details, we know with certainty that students’ return to learning after six months of schools being closed will be different—and stressful—for them, their parents, and their educators. Therefore, regardless of states’ and districts’ individual re-opening plans, one ingredient that must be included in those plans is a system of social and emotional supports for students and the adults in their lives.

At EDC, we are preparing to support districts across Massachusetts in their reopening plans through the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mental Health Academy. Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the academy is designed to help districts from high-need communities build multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) for SEL and mental health. This MTSS approach has three tiers:

  • Tier 1 – Schools provide SEL instruction and practices in the classroom and schoolwide for all students.
  • Tier 2 – Schools provide small-group interventions for students with moderate mental health needs, such as chronic stress or difficulties developing meaningful relationships.
  • Tier 3 – Schools provide individualized clinical interventions to address the needs of students suffering from significant mental health challenges, including those who have specific mental or behavioral health diagnoses.  

For this year’s academy, our focus will be on helping schools use the MTSS framework to coordinate their SEL and mental health supports for students amid the ongoing pandemic. Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, we will rely on best practices collected from districts across the Commonwealth and the country over the past couple of months. Following are just a few of those best practices:

  • Putting in place systemic efforts to ensure every student has ongoing connections to school-based trusted adults
  • Integrating SEL strategies into remote learning
  • Training teachers to identify and properly refer students who might be struggling with mental health
  • Screening students for mental health through virtual means
  • Providing virtual small group supports to struggling students
  • Providing tele-mental health therapy

Whatever school may look like in the fall, we are prepared to help districts make sure they are ready to support their students’ social and emotional well-being.

To learn more about how schools and districts can support students’ SEL and mental health needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, watch our recorded webinar originally aired on June 4, 2020. Watch it here.

 Shai Fuxman is a senior scientist at EDC with expertise in social and emotional learning (SEL) and behavioral health.
Behavioral, Physical, and Mental Health

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