September 12, 2018
I think back to that first day when we brought home our oldest son Garner from the hospital. I remember not being able to sleep, sitting beside his crib listening to make sure he was still breathing. We were new parents, a little anxious, and there was nothing we would not have done to keep him safe. The desire to protect him hasn’t changed, even now almost 17 years later. He needs us less than he used to but we still want to provide him with the safest environment we possibly can. It probably didn’t come as a surprise to you to hear that GAC has been thinking about student safety and making improvements over the last year. Due to your contributions to the Annual Fund
, we were able to add an officer in February and new fencing and a gate over the summer to ensure that your children are watched over in a fully enclosed campus throughout the day. But safety is more than fences.
When looking back over the last year, we realized that there was more we could do for our students. I am talking about emotional safety and mental well-being.
GAC is committed to educating the whole child, and part of that is an emphasis on social and emotional learning. Social and emotional learning includes the capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, and establish positive relationships with others. The research on social and emotional learning confirms it is key to healthy adolescent development and academic achievement. Moreover, this is in line with our mission to grow students in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. Our skilled team of counselors across all school levels work with students so they can better know and manage themselves, understand the perspectives of others and relate effectively with them, and make sound choices about personal and social decisions. Teachers are also very involved, modeling skills and creating opportunities for students to apply them in various situations.
One of the challenges to providing for the emotional safety and mental well-being of students is that often adolescents are reluctant to ask for help due to stigma and embarrassment and the belief that they should solve problems for themselves. This is why we introduced TxtAboutIt this year for our Middle and High School students. This program allows students to text anonymously with counselors and administrators about any concerns they have, for themselves or for others. We believe it’s important to provide an avenue for students to reach out for help they might otherwise not ask for in person. Other schools have implemented this service, including colleges and universities, and what they have found is that by reducing some of the stigma of communicating with trusted adults, students open up and are more willing to receive help for different issues they are facing, including anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Beyond TxtAboutIt, each of our school levels are also working on age-appropriate efforts with regards to emotional safety and mental well-being. While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the ways our counselors, administrators, and teachers are working together for the good of our students:
At the Lower School, students are growing in their emotional regulation skills, both through learning how to cope with “big” feelings and how to calm their minds through exercises such as deep breathing and movement. Even simple things such as learning a “feelings” vocabulary have helped empower students so they are better able to express their emotions and regulate themselves. Students are also learning conflict resolution skills, which will help them prepare for the challenges of the middle and high school years.
The Middle School puts a great deal of effort and thought into its social and emotional curriculum. The middle school age is a crucial time for social and emotional development as children are forming an identity that is separate from their parents and more likely to be influenced by peers and society. In order to guide students through these years of transition, our Middle School leadership team contracts with Pathways counseling group to provide classroom lessons on subjects such as healthy decision making, goal setting, relationships, communication, and refusal skills. Our counseling program complements these lessons with additional lessons as well as individual guidance for students who need more assistance.
For both the Middle School and High School, we believe that social and emotional learning also happens through service, for it is when we reach outside of ourselves in service to others that we are better able to grow and develop as emotionally-healthy individuals. Students are given multiple opportunities throughout the year to participate in mission trips, both local and international. In fact, there are 21 trips taking place from this fall until the end of next summer. These opportunities are often life-changing experiences that usually benefits the students even more than the people they serve. We are also intentional about invited Chapel and guest speakers, seeking those who will help grow student awareness of local and global issues so they can think beyond themselves to the world around them.
In High School, our counselors and administrators deliver lessons during advisement which place social emotional growth and well-being at the forefront of the High School culture building. These include discussion groups that have resulted from even stronger connection points developed between faculty and students from our Spiritual Retreat. Our High School counselors are strong advocates for all students, providing support as they navigate this critical period of their life. Like Middle School, High School also has a partnership for education with Pathways.
Our hope at GAC is that beyond what your child will learn in every classroom, they will gain a sense that they are loved and cared for. We are committed to providing a positive school environment and to developing persons of sound character and health, caring as much about the social emotional and character development of your child as their academic achievements. As you drive onto campus each day, let the gates, fences, and officers serve as a reminder that at GAC, your student won’t just be safe, but that they will also feel safe because they are surrounded by people who are intentionally investing in their growth and development. That’s something to celebrate.