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This year’s return to in-person learning is quickly revealing what we all expected- our children have been facing many mental health challenges, and those challenges are on full display in our schools.

The well-being of our students has always been a priority for our schools, but this year it is more clear than ever how many needs must be addressed before our students can learn at their full potential. In addition to using trauma-informed practices and providing a wide variety of social-emotional supports, our schools have been proactively incorporating the tenets of positive psychology to promote well-being and joy for all. Positive psychology is the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people. In a school setting, “positive education” is “a response to the gap between what people want for their children and what schools teach.

Last year during remote learning, we leaned heavily on our advisory program to not only check in with students, but also provide them with regular fun and engaging social activities. We put our students’ well being first and created numerous extracurricular events – field trips, holiday parties, exercise sessions, art lessons, competitions, and more – all virtual – knowing young people need enjoyable experiences with friends to thrive. And for many, these social experiences would constitute the majority of their peer interaction.

Walking through our three schools last week, it was terrific to see so many experiences intentionally designed for students to reconnect with each other and their teachers. Our school leaders recognized the need to celebrate our coming together physically to learn and so they built in these opportunities to get to know each other, to process lived experiences, and to celebrate our diversity and resilience. Our students came back so enthusiastic and happy to be together – reconnecting with old friends, making new ones – and eager and excited to dive into learning collaboratively. One teacher enthused about how quickly the students were bonding and another one marveled at the enthusiastic participation she was witnessing in classes.

As the year progresses and the novelty of being in person wears off, I’m sure we will uncover mental health challenges, stresses, anxiety, and grief that many of our students are experiencing. We have two full time counselors on-site, and while we work to shore up our students and families with trauma-informed practices, we won’t forget to focus on creating happy schools as we strive to meet our vision of “a world in which every school is a collaborative environment where the learner and teacher experiences are engaging and joyful, and all children are empowered to achieve their full potential.”