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Training for social and emotional support amid the pandemic

The Augusta School District is promoting how to deal with the pandemic, the new structure of remote learning, technology, and social and emotional health.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Before school was back in session, teachers in Augusta took a turn being a student. In a series of workshops with the school's licensed social workers in order to train teachers on how to help students' social and emotional wellbeing during the pandemic.

The four areas the district is focusing on are dealing with the pandemic, the new structure of remote learning, technology, and social and emotional health.

"I think the way that we're looking at it is kind of setting the foundation," Michelle Burns said. Burns is a licensed social worker at Cony Middle and High School.

The Augusta school district, like many others, is on a hybrid model this year due to the pandemic, and has health and safety precautions in place all around the school. It's also one of the first districts in Maine to have this type of training but, "the Maine DOE is promoting this concept," Tony Viet said. Viet is also a licensed social worker at the district.

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He said it's important for students to feel socially and emotionally supported in order to get the best education possible.

"We absolutely want to make sure that students you know feel safe, feel good, feel ready to learn so they can pursue what they need to," he added.

According to a survey done by the National Education Association, many educators reported being anxious, fearful, worried, overwhelmed, and sad.

Officials here in Maine say they see that too.

"People who might have regular stressors in their lives I think are experiencing things on a greater scale or they're more emphasized because there's so much uncertainty in our world right now," Burns said.

Cony Principal Kim Silsby says she and her team are checking in with teachers too and compares it to being a passenger on an airplane.

"When you have to put your oxygen mask on before you help someone else put their oxygen mask on," she said.

Burns, Silsby, and Veit agree the start of the school year has gone smooth, and credit that to the work done over the summer to better support students in the fall.