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Sauk Prairie incorporates mental health dialogue in daily curriculum

School districts returning to the classroom are taking advice on how to address social and emotional well-being.
Published: Feb. 17, 2021 at 4:23 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2021 at 5:54 PM CST
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SAUK PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - Since last August, the Sauk Prairie School District has been in-person in a hybrid model. For high school students, the return to the classroom has come with a range of emotions.

School staff say that students are struggling with disconnection, loneliness, grief, and anxiety. In addition, teachers notice that students are more reserved than in years past.

“A lot more introspective, a lot more reflective, and frankly just a lot quieter,” said John Dollar, an English teacher at Sauk Prairie High School.

To address these feelings, the district has built in curriculum to the school day for discussions about mental health.

The day begins with a 20-minute roundtable where students can open up and connect with one another.

Dollar says expressing what they’re feeling allows his students to feel less alone.

“They’re missing time to just connect with people on a human level,” said Dollar. “Talk to students about those feelings that matter, the grief that they’re feeling, the loss that they’re feeling matters and it deserves to be heard.”

Kristin Hinze, a student services counselor, says starting each school day with this practice helps students excel academically too.

“So that students can let go of some of what’s happening in their head and then they can focus on the here and now,” said Hinze.

Many students have shared their own feelings of loss about missing out on high school rites of passage.

“They experience the loss of a promo or a homecoming or a football game just as much as we might experience the loss of time with friends and family,” said Dollar. “The most important thing that we can do is to acknowledge that it’s not trivial for them and it is meaningful that they’ve lost out on those opportunities.”

Hinze says many extra-curricular activities are different too and students are unsure how to navigate changes in their sports programs and after school clubs.

“We’re sensing that grief with a lot of students where their identity has been connected with that,” she said.

Hinze says her advice to schools preparing to reopen is to practice patience.

“We’re giving grace to ourselves and our staff and our students that this is new and we’re going to just have to learn to adjust,” Hinze said. “This is hard for everyone and understanding that we’re in it together.”

The school is also looking ahead to planning socially-distanced outdoor events in spring so students can experience some fun group activities.

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