Selinsgrove pilot program helps teens with stressors

Selinsgrove Area Intermediate School Principal Jason Schmucker prepares each morning announcement with a joke or riddle to promote positivity for the students.

SELINSGROVE — Selinsgrove Area Intermediate School Principal Jason Schmucker ends each morning announcement with a joke or a riddle. It’s a practice he started just this school year for both in-person and online students as a way to begin the days with a positive vibe.

“I try to throw in a little humor, a little bit of mental stimulation, and the kids love it,” said Schmucker. “It’s just one more piece of us trying to promote positivity.”

The announcements allow for students to laugh in the morning or answer the riddles. It’s a “fun way” to interact and connect the study body.

Youth mental health in the time of COVID-19 has highlighted the need for students who already are facing normal stressors, experts say.

The Selinsgrove Area Intermediate School started a pilot program in January that focuses on social-emotional learning for 10 classrooms. The pilot program was not created in response to the stressors that come along with the pandemic — it was in the works prior to that — but it does teach students how to deal with their emotions in times of stress and anxiety, said Schmucker.

Topics include building relationships, being an “upstander” instead of a bystander, what it means to be a friend, feelings and emotions and being able to process those. The goal is to expand the program if it is successful, said Schmucker.

“It gives them tools in their tool belt — good strategies and skills,” said Schmucker. “Hopefully with those skills they can tackle the tough situations that happen in life, including the challenges that may arise because of COVID situations.”

The program has an intervention piece that helps to educate students regarding their choices and it includes a lesson for them to review as well as a conversation with an adult in the building, Scmucker said.

Schmucker and school counselor Judy Fatchaline said the behavior issues in school on the buses with students are lower now than in the past school years. The perceived contributing factor to fewer behavior concerns are the safety measures put into place due to COVID, including social distancing, they said.

There were questions on how students would react to changes but there are not as many challenges as educators first thought, they said.

“It’s hard for us as a school district to gauge what’s going on behind the scenes because of the pandemic,” said Fatchaline. “It’s been especially hard this year to get a handle on underlying issues because of the factors from COVID.”

The students want to be in school. When they are told they are going to distance learning or sent home for contact tracing, the students “look defeated,” said Schmucker. “They want to be around their peers. They were isolated for so long.”

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