This time around I wanted to break the ice and talk to our teachers on campus about mental health and how they see it’s influence in our school community. It’s hard to stay composed during times like this and trying to get your life back to normal when the world around us isn’t “normal” is exhausting sometimes. I wanted to extend a hand to Ms. Garcia and Mr. Neal to get some wise words for our thoughts!
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So, Mr. Neal is one of the sponsor’s for panther town, a camp where our Maryvale students go to have authentic discussions about racial issues, gender, stereotypes and other social issues. Ms. Garcia is the Psychology teacher on our campus and doesn’t mind giving her students the reality check they need and she speaks every word with passion and truth. Here’s how the interviews went with both of them!
Q: Why do you think it’s important for emotional awareness to be represented in High Schools?
A: The core of people is like- how they feel and obviously schools are kind of set up trying to figure out how people think but, what people care about most is how they feel. When we ignore those types of things, our learning doesn’t really happen anyway so having social emotional learning is more important, particularly during times like last year when we were home and things like that. A lot of those social emotional skills were put to the test because it was the toughest time for people and those students who had gone through talking to social workers they did things like Panthertown and even be a leader, they have a sense of communion and a sense of self and were able to get through it easier than those who did not.
Q: In your experience, have you noticed any different ways that students handle their problems, from pre-covid to after covid?
A: I think pre-covid, students had a lot more access to their friends. They had a lot more access to teachers and staff and coaches and so forth and if gave them other tools and resources to handle problems and other issues whereas during covid… all they had was Facebook and a teacher on a screen. That was it. And now Post-covid it was interesting because to me when we first came back and I look at the kids, they still look like they were in shock. And some of the kids still look like…They are in shock.
Q: How is emotional awareness helpful for kids during high school?
a: It’s such an important thing because for one, if students understood how they worked emotionally better it would make their lives so much easier but what I think is really important for adults to understand is that, you know, we expect of students the same thing every single day, but they don’t feel the same every single day so why should we expect the same things from them every single day? So once we as adults say ‘we got to pay attention’, adults need to figure that out and that students are going through an emotional journey and we need to adjust accordingly.
Q: How does psychological well-being connect to emotional intelligence?
A: Emotional Intelligence is really important cause it helps us to navigate our world, right? If you’re in a situation and you respond inappropriately to it, it leads to various negative consequences because you did not respond emotionally appropriate to that situation. And so, its important for us to understand what emotional intelligence is and the utilities- how to use that skill.
Q: What do you think Emotional Intelligence (EQ) offers to someone’s personal growth? How can someone increase their Emotional awareness?
A: I think emotional intelligence offers us the ability to cope..it offers us the ability to interact with people. It gives us a sense of confidence once we know we’re able to interact the appropriate way and handle the situation as it should be handled. And confidence is very important for your people, well for anybody really but more so for young people because they are dealing with a lot different transitional issues. “I’m going into the 9th grade’ or ‘I’m going to the 12th grade’ or ‘I’m getting ready to graduate…what am I gonna do? Do I look cute today’, Right?…’What are people going to think about me because I’m walking around campus?!?’ All of these things happening and so, emotional intelligence offers those skill sets for an individual to be able to cope, and that is a big thing.
Increasing EQ- I think that is something this school community needs to really address. I think parents need to be deliberate about their children’s growth. There are a couple really good sites like Psychology Today, the APA that have some really good things on Emotional Intelligence that are structured. On YouTube you may find nonsense written so I know the APA has some really good articles and structured items about What it is, what to do, How we use it.
Q: In your opinion why is emotional awareness important for people to be comfortable with addressing?
A: We need to address where we are emotionally ,- well we need to be aware right?.. cause if we are not aware of where we are emotionally then we cannot articulate to the next person. ‘This is what I feel about this situation, this is why I feel this way about this situation. This is how I’m going to handle and manage this situation.’
If a person is not aware of where they are emotionally, they cannot articulate it, they cannot say how they are going to manage it and probably deal with it, they can’t! Cause you have to identify the problem first in order to deal with it.
Q: What is the purpose behind Panthertown?
A: I would say that it is a way to have students break the barriers that prevent them from connecting to other students. When I first started doing Panthertown I think I thought of it as, ‘Oh this is a place where you learn about racism, sexism, basically where you learn about ‘isms”, but when I was at Panthertown, particularly when I first became the sponsor, me and Ms. Preciado, I was looking at it as a way to connect students. For one, my students are not as connected to the campus as most. My kids are with me all day even at lunch they’re with Carla and other people working my classroom during the school year and so they don’t get as many chances to bond with their peers who are regular ed students.
I took one of my students to Panthertown for two years and it was cool to see her bond on a different level then just the students coming in and saying ‘Hi , your kids are cute’ or something like that. It was more like a real friendship amongst peers like it should be and so I started thinking of it as a way- you know when people aren’t thinking about, ‘oh black people are one way or Muslim people are one way, people with special needs are one way’… if they have all that out of their system they’ll have an easier time connecting with other students.
Q: What type of influence do you think Panthertown has on Students?
A: Well I know that when I look at the students who have graduated whether it be from years past or from last year, almost all of them, particularly the counselors, all do such great work with organizations, community, activism, and getting out to vote.
I know that it helps students decide on ways they can help their community. Back on campus they always think ‘okay well what can I do to make campus life better?’ and they all decide on things. But I love the long lasting effects that I see way after they’re done and I’m no longer saying ‘oh we should try this or maybe y’all can do this”, they seem to be doing these kinds of things on their own.
Q: Do you have any healthy advice and/or tips that you think could be helpful for our School Community?
A: For our entire school community I would say, leave no one behind. Obviously everyone is good at being nice and warm and understanding to their friends, if all the students and all the staff members got together and we all said ‘well this is one big community so be it, special ed classes, the gifted class etc.’ , we should not treat anyone as another! We can find a way to bridge this gap so that every student, when something happens, all want better for each other.
I’ve done a lot interviews this past year on teachers and covid and things like that and I try to tell people, we’re not looking at people in the United States as part of our community but we should. If we did we would be super sad seeing the number of people who die from covid but instead it’s just like a number on a paper and we’re like, moving on in life. And I think it’s the same here, when I think of teachers and we walk by and see some kids who are fighting out in the quad and they’re being taken away from the security, we should be sad! And we should be thinking, ‘what can we do to make this place better so that people don’t want to fight each other.’ Or when you see some students eating alone everyday in the corner, you should just feel bad! We need to make this feel like more of a welcoming environment. What are we doing to build community here? We’re not doing something then we are apart of the reason why people are sad, people are fighting, people are smoking in the bathroom, no ones talking to my students, etc.
Do you have any healthy advice or tips that would be healthy for the School Community?…Any strategies or curriculums that enforce any Emotional Intelligence?
A: For me as a teacher, I think students should have an opportunity to reflect, and so being able to write where you are. I would have you write those “where I am Today” kinds of things… and it forces you to stop and think about where you are, right? That is one. Two, I think when you have major events happening in the community, so like the George Floyd incident and the verdict, that warrants some conversations in classrooms and within the school Community. Cause then kids are wondering; you guys are wondering what our thoughts are, and sometimes you guys aren’t wondering what our thoughts are but you are wondering what is going to happen to you. How does it effect YOU and so, those conversations as uncomfortable as they are, they MUST be had. I think setting the time aside to have those conversations at least once every three to four weeks is important and I had them with you guys frequently. I feel like it’s important to have them with you all and so that you see yourself outside of yourself!