Jefferson School students at last year's field day activities

Jefferson Strives to Keep Students Connected & Supported

Jefferson School students at last year's field day activities

April 20, 2020

As the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic rages, Jefferson Primary School’s faculty and support staff is striving to keep students there connected and emotionally happy.

Despite the current distance-learning program, the mental health team of psychologists Dr. Kathleen Ozimkowski and Dr. Julissa Garris-Shade and social worker Gisselle Soto has made social and emotional skill development a top priority.

Jefferson’s social and emotional learning campaign kicked off in the opening hours of the school year last September. Students were presented with the SEL curriculum in their classrooms and the program took off from there. “Why would we stop now?” Principal Valerie Capitulo-Saide said. “So, as distance learning has been implemented, the SEL effort is running parallel.”

Jefferson’s mental health team along with its colleagues from across Huntington UFSD created a mental health e-Board for parents as everyone navigates through the uncharted territory of distance learning and deals with the stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The entire district mental health team wanted to make sure parents and children had social and emotional support across a variety of areas, including information on community resources,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said.

Jefferson’s mental health team hit the ground running following the district’s transition to remote education. Team members met virtually to discuss a plan of action for reaching out to all families and how to go about communicating with at-risk students. Individual counseling sessions, SEL activities and parent-check-ins for these children began immediately.

The mental health team and Ms. Capitulo-Saide have been collaborating daily to make sure students “feel emotionally supported in every way.”

Here are some of Jefferson’s supportive initiatives:

  • The mental health team reached out to parents to assure them that team members are available to provide support and information on community resources to families, emphasizing the team members are only an e-mail away.
  • The mental health team reached out to every parent with a note of encouragement and created the A-B-C’s of Stress Reduction, a clever evidenced-based handout detailing effective tools to reduce stress and anxiety in children and adults.
  • On school days, Ms. Capitulo-Saide welcomes students via a video message with a set of morning announcements. Students, faculty, staff and parents make virtual guest appearances during the announcements, which include the Pledge of Allegiance and the Jefferson Primary School pledge, which is a promise that each Jefferson Jaguar makes to themselves. Part of it goes like this: “I believe in myself and my ability to do my best. I like challenges and I learn from my mistakes.”
  • Every Sunday evening, Ms. Capitulo-Saide e-mails to parents the school’s weekly newsletter, which includes a series of SEL related activities they can engage in with their children during the week. Among the activities have been positive affirmation videos, a worry management chart, SEL scavenger hunt, narrated stories addressing various SEL topics and even encouragement in song by Bruno Mars.
  • Mental health team members and their emoji’s go into Google Classroom on “Mindful Mondays.” The emoji’s encourage students to recite a positive mantra every day of the week (e.g. “I get better and better every day!” and “My challenges help me grow!”) Each week a new emoji and mantra is provided. “Positive affirmations are well established as a method to improve a child’s self-concept,” Ms. Capitulo-Saide said. “We want our students to believe they can navigate any challenge or hardship that comes their way.”
  • Ms. Capitulo-Saide invites all Jefferson students to a live interactive lesson with her on Mondays. Topics have included poetry and movement with a focus on alleviating any stress that the students may have during these challenging times.
  • An encouraging video set to music was sent to students reminding them that they are loved and missed and that they can climb any mountain, regardless of height.
  • Ms. Capitulo-Saide shares “happy news” on Fridays. Classes have an opportunity to share their gratitude for what transpired during the week.

Jefferson’s ultimate goal? To make sure all students and parents feel emotionally supported during this time of tumult. The school’s mental health team plans to continue to create games, recite mantras, engage in activities and send messages to support the emotional needs of the Jefferson family.