Craving Love

Practicing the use of feeling words is one of the ways that students at St. Mary of the Hills in Milton are learning to address and share their social and emotional needs.

“I want to take my sad day and make it happy.”

Practicing the use of feeling words is one of the ways that students at St. Mary of the Hills in Milton are learning to address and share their social and emotional needs. Through a Catholic Health Foundation (CHF) grant, St. Mary’s has incorporated two Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs into their curriculum to serve their kindergarten through grade eight student population. The two programs, “Box out Bullying” and “Second Step” are being incorporated into grade level specific curriculum for the 2023-24 school year.

These two new programs build upon the foundation that CHF helped lay with the hiring of an adjustment counselor to the staff in 2021. The counselor is full-time and is available to all students in Pre-K through grade eight. His schedule includes one-on-one student meetings, small group sessions, coaching teachers and staff, and intervention with students in crisis. 

“We are noticing a significant shift in students and their families,” says Devon Holt, Assistant Principal. “Many parents are now working full-time, longer hours, sometimes two jobs and often the kids are home by themselves. They have technology, and the kids are getting into trouble through TikTok and other social platforms. Often the parents don’t know what’s going on or how serious it is, or they just don’t know what to do about it.”

The change in students’ emotional health and behaviors is also emerging at younger and younger ages. Ms. Holt continues, “We have young children just under three years of age here with us from 6am until 7pm. They’re craving love and that desire is being expressed in ways that we have never seen before. It presents as sadness and through a lot of attention-seeking behavior. We have to peel some students off of their parents at drop-off. Some will wake up from their rest time and cry from the time they wake up until the time they go to the After School program. They exhibit lots of behaviors to get attention because they have difficulty articulating their feelings and their needs.”

The Second Step program helps students learn how to communicate their feelings and build their social-emotional skills in safe, supported, age-appropriate ways. The program also helps train teachers how to use the resources to teach self-management, relationship building, cooperation, and conflict resolution.

In addition to children spending long hours at the school, the St. Mary administration has also noted that the pandemic added new challenges to students’ development. “During Covid when both parents still had to work, many students were home all day with grandparents or babysitters who didn’t know how to work Zoom or technology. We saw their mental health simply deteriorate,” says Beth Eddy, Director of Advancement and Enrollment. “Covid also left a lot of students with speech issues. We used to have one to two students in our speech pathology program. Now, we have seven.”

With support from the Catholic Health Foundation, St. Mary of the Hills hopes to work with the Second Step program’s online modules and classroom kits to reenforce communication skills and really help students express themselves in a positive, compassionate manner. They continue to focus on supporting students through these and similar tools, knowing that mental health is key to a child’s ability to succeed.

“Without being socially and emotionally healthy,” says Ms. Holt, “these kids can’t learn. Some sit in a state of withdrawal with sad looks on their faces. We want to redirect their daily experience and help them feel safe and supported when they are here with us.”

Share this story

More Stories