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In San Francisco, Supporting Emotional Well-Being at Home

How can parents, caregivers, and families ensure that young people’s social and emotional needs are met in an at-home learning environment?

During a parent and family webinar held last month, parents of students in the San Francisco Unified School District were asked to share their greatest challenges as they try to support their children learning at home. 

One parent responded: “To learn more about what’s ‘normal’ in this environment, and how to help our kids through both normal and other-than-normal feelings.” Another added: “I would like tools to help my only child (7) who is missing social connections and whose social skills seem to be devolving.” “I have a moody fifth-grader,” another parent simply said. 

The webinar’s host, Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco (PPS-SF), typically works to support parents and families in navigating thextending the conversation e district and its schools and empowering them to shape policy. As school buildings were closed this spring in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, PPS-SF shifted its lens to support families working with students at home—and to remind them that the “new normal” is still an opportunity to develop valuable social and emotional skills. 

“Students are learning all the time, whether we know it or not,” said Miranda Nye Martin, the organization’s director of policy. “While challenging, this is an opportunity for students and families to build skills that will really serve them when school resumes—and for the rest of their lives.” 

During the webinar and subsequent virtual events later in the month, parents were broken into small groups based on the grade levels of their children to learn age-appropriate skills for supporting emotional well-being from experts. Parents of pre-K through fifth-graders, for example, were given a primer on brain development and specific strategies to support their children, such as giving them choices to provide a sense of agency and setting up online playdates to maintain social bonds.  

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“A lot of the basis for social and emotional learning starts at home,” parent educator Nancy Gnass told participants. “The fact that you’re all here right now shows you care about practicing this.” 

Parents also were given the opportunity to share with each other. In one group, a parent discussed the challenges of supporting children in a language immersion program when they don’t speak Spanish, while another talked about juggling activities for children while both parents work full-time from the house. In closing reflections, parents were encouraged to share what they learned. “To practice compassion to myself and my children during this time,” one parent said. “Learning is practicing and modeling what we would like to see so our children can also take on these desired life practices.”  

PPS-SF has long supported social and emotional learning (SEL) within SFUSD, which has made it an integral part of elementary-level report cards and policies such as restorative practices. As the district looks towards reopening schools, the organization is looking to address learning loss and support students’ social and emotional development in the fall. 

“People are worried about the vast inequities of how students have experienced this time and all the mental health issues which have been exacerbated,” Martin says. “How do we work on rebuilding connections and trust?”