New program for Glendale students as they return to a 'new normal'

Angela McByrd
Posted at 3:30 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 21:16:33-05

GLENDALE, AZ — Children have experienced the highs and lows of a roller coaster during the ever-changing decisions of school during the pandemic.

Online learning to in-person learning, even a combination of both at times. The back and forth has taken a social and emotional toll on children.

One district recognizes the issue.

In fact, they’ve been taking steps to address it and set children up for success in their "new normal."

“Breathe in and breathe out,” fourth-grade student Alexea Brown said as she walked us through her exercises.

To those on the outside, Mrs. Cynthia Kavanagh’s room could be mistaken as a yoga studio or a high-price retreat. But this is her classroom at Glendale American Elementary School.

It's a place students find as a sanctuary through a different kind of education.

Mrs. Kavanagh is the Social Emotional Learning Specialist at Glendale American Elementary School.

She says kids come in and learn, “life skills of asking for help if they need it, coping skills with stress. We have a lot of kids that just need a little break and they come over to my room and calm down and they’re ready to go on with their day.”

The Social Emotional Program has been around for over a decade at the elementary school. And now, it's growing to a Behavioral Health and School Safety Team. The expansion and emphasis are on children’s emotions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It has really affected our kids’ emotions,” says Kavanagh. “So how to regulate those emotions. We’re seeing a lot more anxiety. But I noticed a huge change too in kiddos asking for help. They come to the teachers, they come to me, they ask for help from their parents.”

Speaking with fourth graders, the toll of online learning is obvious. Brown admits it was, “really hard to learn.”

Brown tells ABC15 she found it hard, "because I'm not used to seeing people on a computer, I'm used to seeing them in person."

Liliana De La Cruz, a fourth-grader at Glendale American Elementary School says, “it gave me a headache a lot because I was staring at a screen for like a lot of time. It was pretty tough.”

Alliyah Ortiz, also a fourth-grader at the elementary school, says, “It affects your learning, and it affects you, it affects family members that you love. And it affects your emotions. It affects a lot of things, and it makes you turn into a different person."

Ortiz admits she found it difficult to focus on her assignments at home with her brother around. Transitioning back to in-person learning was an adjustment for everyone.

Mrs. Kavanagh says, “the whole time the kids were in home school or virtual, now they’re socializing and trying to learn the new routine of what it looks like again to start school."

Brown says she was nervous, saying, “I didn’t know who people were.” But now that these three have settled in, they tell me they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Today I’m going to go to actual school, so I just feel like really good in the mornings,” says Ortiz.

“I’m happy because I get to hug my friends now,” says Brown. “I didn’t get to hug my friends on the computer.”

De La Cruz says, “It’s just better because online it’s just hectic.”

The focus now on our "new normal" looks different than two years ago.

Mrs. Kavanagh says, “I think today we’re really focused on community. So, working together in collaborative groups. You’ll see a lot of big tables and there’s like 5 or 6 kids at a table versus the individual desks.”

Kavanagh goes on, “The ‘new normal’ is not only education with academics but really focusing on Social Emotional Learning. Because that’s a big piece that helps everyone to cope with. A lot of kids are experiencing loss and grief.”