Program helps teachers ease pandemic effects on students
Daniel Paille of the Boston Bruins starts up a ladder to take a crack at crossing a rope bridge at the High 5 Adventure Learning Center in Brattleboro in 2014.

Program helps teachers ease pandemic effects on students

Online professional development initiative seeks to re-engage students through connection-building activities

BRATTLEBORO — High 5 Adventure Learning Center has announced the launch of a new, online professional development program to support upper elementary through high school educators as they re-engage students in those grades post-pandemic through social-emotional learning (SEL).

Founder and Executive Director Jim Grout noted in an Aug. 17 Zoom presentation that the “Rebuilding After COVID” program is High 5's first digital course.

“It's pretty simple,” he said. “We have been in adventure learning for 20 years, and social/emotional learning is something we've always done at High 5.”

The nonprofit educational organization is dedicated to helping individuals, schools, teams, and communities use adventure experiences as an effective tool to improve the way they live, learn, work, and lead.

High 5, an educational nonprofit based at the Winston Prouty campus, helps people of all ages develop a sense of connection and community.

One of its success stories: The Boston Bruins participated in a team-building course before starting the 2010–2011 NHL season, a season that ended with a Stanley Cup victory.

As the pandemic unfolded, Grout said, “we scratched our heads and thought about how to help.”

If you'd asked him how to present a course at High 5 digitally before the pandemic, he noted the Center's iconic, hands-on process.

“I would have said, 'Why would we want to do this digitally?'” Grout said.

Still, he noted, in talking with educators and after an “exhaustive” search of how Covid has affected students, the group felt “the need was too great [...] and it really became our responsibility.”

“We had to come up with a way,” Grout added. “We're so excited to be trying to do this and it always comes from our hearts. How can we help you? How can we help kids? How can we help educators?”

In developing the new Rebuilding After COVID program, Center staff members assembled content from the past nine years of coursework that High 5 has been offering in the Keene, N.H., school district.

They then formed teams and hired consultants to help with the online part.

The website launched Aug. 3. The Aug. 17 webinar saw interested audience members from as far away as Mexico and Michigan.

“We tried to respond to the needs and then create something, and this is just the beginning,” said Grout.

He said High 5 intends to continue to amend and develop the online course to accommodate needs of specific school districts, and staff members are happy to talk with educators one-on-one to do so.

“I hope you would trust we're living in the world you're living in [...] and we're going to keep monitoring,” Grout said.

' the foundation for every need that schools will face'

Informed by the evidence of how children and adults recover from trauma, and drawing from 35 years of work in experiential education and social-emotional learning, the course uses play as the pathway for building relationships, increasing emotional awareness, and teaching creative problem solving.

According to Grout, educational experts advise that incorporating SEL into the school day, and after-school programming will be essential to restoring connections between students and teachers.

They say that social-emotional learning is the foundation for every need that schools will face, from combating learning loss to reducing absenteeism.

The program is aligned with the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework and complements other SEL curricula.

Three areas of focus help educators recognize and address how the pandemic has impacted learning communities with tools for socially distant, remote, and hybrid settings. Those focus areas are:

• Rebuilding Community: Restoring school climate and reconnecting learning communities.

• Rebuilding Emotional Well-Being: Recognizing and managing emotions likely to arise now and during the transition to the Covid recovery period.

• Rebuilding Physicality: Using activities to create kinesthetic outlets for overcoming social distancing, screen learning, and internalized experiences of trauma.

The two-year, $299 program includes more than 30 SEL-based developmental activities, discussions, and lessons, each with easy-to-follow demonstration videos and instructions.

Grout said High 5 is working with underwriters and donors so that any school district wishing to participate will be able to do so. Various other perks and discounts apply for groups of 20 or more and 70 or more.

High 5 staff members say the key people in a school district or school who should have access to the course are those already responsible for students' social/emotional learning and community development.

“Our mission has been to help teachers improve the learning environment and culture within their classroom to strengthen relationships and support academics,” said Grout. “Now we are faced with a greater challenge. Children struggle to process a loss of the magnitude this pandemic has created.”

“We've seen in our work that immersive, experiential, social-emotional activities have powerful relationship-building and mental and physical health benefits that other interventions can't provide,” Grout continued.

“We created this professional development series to give educators a broader range of educational tools to help their communities cope with and rebuild from these difficult experiences from a place of joy,” he said.

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