As North Yarmouth Academy prepares to welcome students back to campus full time on Sept. 8, it is important to reflect on lessons we learned that will continue to benefit our students well into the future.
In March 2020, the entire world was thrust into a period of distance learning. This represented a major challenge even for the most gifted educators and the most resilient students.
Since this time, distance learning has been a subject of debate and discussion, but it can be delivered effectively. Students can experience significant growth if the distance learning platform is effectively
delivered.

In developing a platform for remote learning, one key element that educators must not overlook is providing for the social and emotional health of their students. We see important reminders about how to remain safe and healthy from COVID-19 daily. In addition to our physical health, we also need to focus on our mental health and wellness. The current reality is still new for all of us, and it is natural to see a range of emotions among adults and children alike.

Children can react in different ways and any reaction is acceptable. They may range from the excitement of connecting with friends on social media to a real sense of loss. As students think about family and
loved ones, they may struggle to fully understand what is happening, which may lead to heightened stress and anxiety. Different formats and expectations brought on by new academic platforms can only increase
that stress.

An effective distance learning program should approach student emotional health and wellness with the following criteria in mind:

• Monitor wellness: Recognize students are reacting differently to this crisis. In addition to direct support from the school counselor, equip teachers with the ability to identify warning signs that
empower them to monitor changes in behavior and seek support.

• Provide resources for families: Our young people aren’t the only ones that require support. Adults have many questions about the virus, the impact of distance learning on their children and
how to speak to their children about the pandemic. Make resources available and accessible for families. At North Yarmouth Academy, we created a wellness resource webpage that is
updated regularly. A new wellness theme is introduced each week with links to helpful information.

• Educator self-care: This can be a stressful time both children and adults. Administrators must support and allow space for faculty that are balancing work, family responsibilities and possible
pandemic related financial stress.

• Physical activity: Organized and unorganized sports and physical activity have been extremely restricted during the pandemic, leading to a period of concerning inactivity among our young
people. Promote activity, share resources, and establish goals with your students for exercise.

• Supportive academic program: It is okay to challenge your students and expect a high level of work, but ensure that you replace the support students were familiar with in school with remote
support from teachers that students can easily access.

• Schedule: Create a schedule that provides relief from screen time. It is unrealistic to simply replicate the existing schedule with an online schedule. Times for important group and peer-to-peer social connections should be built into the schedule.

• Promote student leadership: Efforts to promote social connections are usually most effective and authentic if they come directly from the student body. Empower student leaders to develop
strategies and programs to reinforce student social bonds. At NYA, these took the form of a weekly student news video segment, jokes and morale boosters, birthday parades for the younger
students, online musical recitals, and more.

Amidst the challenges, be aware of the many silver linings. This has been the greatest era of professional development for our teachers, and their pedagogy will never be the same. Faculty and students have
learned new ways to leverage technology to communicate and collaborate with one another. Students have learned new lessons in empathy and compassion. They have learned how to adapt and to be flexible
and creative when alternate plans were required. Combined, these lessons will serve us very well when we return to the classroom.

Ben Jackson is Head of School at North Yarmouth Academy, an independent, college preparatory, coeducational school for toddlers to
students in grade twelve plus a post post-graduate program.

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