DALLAS — With COVID-19 and a lot of unknowns as school begins, Dallas Independent School District is prioritizing the mental health of its students.
DISD is ramping up efforts to provide mental health services and focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) when virtual school starts on Tuesday.
Every teacher and staff member are now trained in trauma-informed care.
Each day, virtual learning will have SEL time built in for teachers to connect with students on a personal level and assess how they are doing emotionally.
"We can use SEL to create a safe and supportive and welcoming environment," said Juany Valdespino-Gaytán, DISD executive director of engagement services.
She said students are missing their friends and teachers, and it is important to create a time to connect.
SEL includes conversations so students can work through their stress and feelings. It also allows time for classmates to get to know their teacher and each other, even in an online setting.
"It's more about creating a space where they know that if they want to share, they can," said Alejandra Ramos Gómez.
She's a teacher at Walnut Hill Elementary School in Dallas.
Gómez said SEL has been positive for the mental health of her students over the last year. In October 2019, Walnut Hill Elementary was damaged by a tornado. The students lost their school and had to move to another campus. Then in March 2020, COVID-19 forced the kids to learn from home.
She said with SEL, she teaches the children that there are many things in life they can't control. But with moments of meditation, breathing exercises, brain breaks, and open conversations, the students learn to work though their problems. They learn about mindfulness, and what they can do to move forward.