Not only does the pandemic and distance learning continue to affect student success, it has also left some students with feelings of isolation, consequently taking a toll on their mental health. A new source of funding may soon help the social and emotional health of Medford students. 

Medford Elementary social worker Peggy Wetmore has received a grant from the state’s COVID-19 relief funds intended to provide mental health services to students. She was given $5,248 to begin, but could receive up to $15,000 if her revised budget is approved and submitted to the state. For now, Wetmore plans to use the current funds to purchase some new Second Step social-emotional curriculum for the school. 

Prior to the pandemic, Wetmore would go into classrooms and teach the Second Step social-emotional curriculum, but since the COVID-19 crisis, that curriculum has become accessible online. With more students spending time looking at screens, Wetmore has been making an effort to send out fewer individual video lessons. Instead she sends out more interactive activities for students to work on over time and activities that parents can participate in as well.

“There’s so much more value, I think, for social-emotional learning to be engaged and having some interaction,” Wetmore said.

One activity example includes an emotional guide featuring bitmoji characters from the Disney Pixar film “Inside Out.” Being able to identify one’s feelings is an important skill, especially for younger students in kindergarten through third grade, Wetmore said. Using the program students can click on which emotion (or character) they are feeling and follow some of the suggested activities to explore their emotions. Some of the suggested activities include distractions, stress relievers and calming techniques.

The biggest mental health challenge for Medford students is dealing with loneliness, according to surveys sent out to families regarding distance learning. Not being able to see their friends or teachers is taking a toll on students, making this grant all the more important. With her students in mind and with limited time, Wetmore submitted the application the day it was due.

“I was pretty excited, pretty shocked,” Wetmore said. “It was my first time completing a grant application so I was really excited about it, especially when we didn't have a whole lot of time to prepare the grant application. I was just hoping for the best.”

If she is able to secure more funds, she plans to attend more mental health training to help students during the COVID-19 crisis. Other funds will go toward purchasing iPads so students can access and interact with online programs while visiting her office, instead of printing worksheets which are often less interactive. Some funds will be used to purchase prizes for the school’s positive behavior intervention support system as an incentive for good behavior.

Wetmore said she hopes the funds will help students learn to recognize their feelings and find strategies to navigate their emotions.

“I could talk forever about mental health,” Wetmore said. “It's always so important.”

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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