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CSSS offers virtual learning strategies during webinar

The Center for Student Success and Services (CSSS) shared tips, strategies and resources for virtual learning success during a webinar Sept. 9 for parents and community members.

Since the coronavirus has changed the look and feel of education, a panel from the CSSS staff, Ahfachkee School, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, Center for Behavioral Health (CBH), Tribal preschool and tutoring program discussed the challenges of attending school online.

“We recognize the curve ball of the pandemic,” said Morgan Griffin, CSSS academic outreach advisor. “We are here to support you during virtual learning and the rest of the school year.”

A focus of the webinar was the importance of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) which helps to develop resilience in students and builds a nurturing environment in which they can thrive. The process helps individuals set and maintain goals, build relationships, learn to solve problems and other skills that are necessary from childhood through adulthood.

“SEL gives us strategies and tools to manage strong emotions and make responsible decisions,” said Brittany Henry, CBH AWARE mental wellness program manager. “Students with those skills have positive self-esteem, good coping mechanisms and a lower likelihood of substance abuse. It plays a tremendous role in positive mental health.”

The webinar touched on a host of ways to adjust to virtual learning. Practicing mindfulness, taking time to focus on the present and be aware of the surroundings can help quiet the “chatter in the mind, which can lead to frantic thoughts,” Henry said.

She said SEL “brain breaks” along with exercise can help focus the mind so students and adults can get through the day. One activity is an active body scan. With eyes closed, become aware of every part of the body starting with the toes and slowly reaching the top of the head.

“Feel the external things on your body,” Henry said. “Listen for sounds, be aware of smells, feel your stomach rumbling, feel your heartbeat. It helps us focus on the moment and it brings down anxiety. It’s a way to train ourselves to shut our brains down. It helps children in this anxiety-ridden time.”

Free resources for other SEL games and activities can be found on the CSSS website at csss.semtribe.com.

The panel addressed issues parents may encounter, including what to do when a young child is expected to sit at the computer for hours without a break. Solutions included reaching out to teachers for alternatives, using paper and pencil instead of the computer screen, standing up at the computer as opposed to always sitting, getting a large exercise ball to sit on, take a walk outside and just move around.

“Maybe the child needs more exercise,” said Valerie Whiteside, Ahfachkee teacher coordinator. “Take a walk in the evening and play with family members.”

Other suggestions include doing deep belly breathing, using squeeze balls, carving out time for other mindful activities and especially establishing a routine.

“I believe brain breaks are important,” said Stephanie Tedders, PECS middle school instructional coach. “Sitting still can be punishing for kids.”

“Use a timer,” added Shavonna Daniels, CSSS K-12 program manager. “It gives them something to look forward to and work toward.”

Henry said there are plenty of teachable moments at home and encouraged parents to compliment their children on a job well done.

“If they need a breather, allow them to take one,” she said. “Give them small activities they can look forward to. If they get frustrated, help them through it by helping them identify their emotions. Have them write three positive things about themselves.”

Tracy Downing, PECS principal, is pleased with the way PECS’ virtual school is going so far.

“We have a 92% attendance rate every day,” Downing said. “Our parents are educational partners with us. They are real troopers and we appreciate them.”

Michael Giacchino, CSSS director, emphasized one of the department’s missions.

“We are here to assist you,” Giacchino said. “We are looking forward to a good school year regardless of the situation.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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