Understanding student emotional health, one emoji at a time

Kelsey Aijala
July 18, 2022
Student Emotional Wellbeing throughout the pandemic from anonymized student data

Much has been written about the student mental health crisis revealed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Headlines highlighted the complex implications of remote learning on student social-emotional well-being and reports by the C.D.C. and Surgeon General focused on the rise in mental health diagnoses in youth. However, there have been few opportunities for students and educators to voice their own experiences with the pandemic, until now.

Sown To Grow is releasing a comprehensive report exploring student emotional well-being throughout the COVID-19 pandemic along with learnings from districts and schools nationwide about supporting students through instability. Our findings come from over 1.9 million anonymized student data points reflecting weekly emotional check-ins between January 2020 and June 2022, and interviews from district and school leaders. This data reveals real-time student sentiment during different phases of the pandemic, and the report explores trends in this data with educators who speak to school and district experiences and decision-making during those periods.

The report aims to add nuance to a conversation around student emotional-welling and what educators can do to support students as the pandemic continues, as well as when faced with other uncertainties. The pandemic was not uniformly experienced across states, districts, schools, or students, but there are some strategies that consistently helped educators understand and support student needs.

Create routines for students to counter uncertainty elsewhere

We knew we needed to build consistent routines and community to give students some sense of normalcy. During virtual learning, we set up Quaren-Teams where groups of 10–15 students had an adult who would check in on them each week and give them space to share. It helped us keep a pulse on what was going on with kids, but it also helped them feel somewhat connected to the school. We’ve kept up Quaren-Teams during in-person schooling where each week students get to together with their assigned adult and have the opportunity to discuss a prompt. It’s a jumping off point for conversation.
— Dr. Josh Solomon, Principal, NYC Business of Sports School, New York City Department of Education (NY)

Prioritize emotional well-being to create environments for learning

When we came back from virtual learning, we knew there was so much that needed to be done just to re-acclimate students and acknowledge what they’ve been through before we could get back to academics. For three weeks, all we did was social-emotional learning. It re-centered out thinking of SEL away from just being an add-on. It is the foundation we must make sure is in place to make sure our students are ready for learning.
— Dr. Michelle Springer, Chief of Student Support Services at Metro Nashville Public Schools (TN)

Invite students to self-disclose for deeper understanding of the supports to invest in

We’ve focused on cementing the notion for students that there is an adult they can reach out to anytime they need and that the communication is two-way. Students knowing that what they share and how they can be supported has been critical to how we assist our students during the pandemic and moving forward. But this needs to be supported with real curriculum. You cannot expect a child to share and respond to their feeling if you have not taught them what feelings are and strategies to address them.
— Kamaljit Pannu, Vice-Principal of Restorative Practices, Mountain House High School, Lammersville Joint Unified School District (CA)

Sown To Grow’s comprehensive social-emotional learning program was designed with input from educators and evolved based on learnings from the pandemic. The program is rooted in consistent student reflection and supported feedback, accompanied by an easy and engaging curriculum tailored for each grade level.

Sown To Grow Student Reflection Portal and Administrator Data Dashboard
Sown To Grow Student Reflection Portal and Administrator Data Dashboard

Sown To Grow is committed to using data responsibly to support educators in their practice and advance schools’ understanding of how to create proactive and supportive learning environments.