With school looking a bit different this year, teachers and administrators from the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in West Hempstead took part in a training program to better address the social and emotional needs of their students.
Hidden Sparks — a nonprofit dedicated to training teachers and providing them with the tools to support struggling students in mainstream Jewish schools — helped teachers establish classrooms routines, which could be easily transitioned to virtual learning if local authorities and administrators deem it necessary.
“I think it helps teachers develop a mindset to look at the whole child,” HANC social worker Barbara Hollander said of Hidden Sparks. “It teaches you to take a step back and just observe the child without the judgment.”
Hollander added that she was “pleasantly surprised” last month when she saw how happy students were to return to school despite the new health and safety protocols. Going forward, Hollander said that it is important to be patient with students as they assimilate themselves.
“It’s all about connecting with the kids,” Hollander said. “Sitting with them, figuratively holding their hand as they express themselves . . . and having them talk about what’s going on in their lives.”
Hidden Sparks social emotional learning coach Lily Howard Scott has worked with teachers at HANC during the back-to-school season to help them prepare their students for success. The program’s goals are to empower teachers with strategies to support students’ emotional responses to the pandemic and to train teachers on how to establish new classroom routines and practices that boost students sense of connection, engagement and investment at school.
“Research shows that the way students feel in the classroom is inextricably linked to how well they perform educationally, and that their social and emotional wellbeing is tethered to their academic wellbeing,” said Hidden Sparks Executive Director Debbie Niderberg in a news release. “We’re thrilled that Lily is guiding our educators on how to welcome their students back to school and how to talk about pandemic. Given that students are most successful when they feel connected to and a sense of belonging in their classes, she is also helping teachers to nurture caring and connected classrooms for all pupils.”
Throughout the months of August and September, Howard Scott met virtually with the faculty team and will continue to consult with and further train educators based on the needs of their specific students and classrooms.
“Our staff is very mindful of social emotional needs,” Hollander said. “Our staff is very supportive of that and they never hesitate to reach out to me. Everybody’s really on board with the Hidden Sparks initiative.”