Can Schools be Therapeutic for Students?

Mother holding sad teenager girl from behind trying to provide comfort and support in a dire situation - close up

As a country we have experienced a year where students have been isolated and had significant negative impact from COVID-19. It has created loss of learning, anxiety, depression, and general brain dysregulation. Students who have had these adversities along with other issues will simply not do well in a traditional school.

In light of this need we should ask ourselves what types of schools do we need to build in order to help our students have an emotionally healthy and helpful environment for the issues they are coping with in our current educational system?

The first and most important is an environment that has stable and safe relationships. Students will need to have staff around them who genuinely care for them. They can be teachers who teach typical subjects but the teaching needs to strengthen students holistically which includes a great deal of support, nurture and compassion.

Another important aspect of a healthy school environment is that school staff understand the neuroscience and developmental needs of the students they are working with. When students face adversities, it is important that we have strategies in the classroom to help them regulate so they will be able to learn effectively. Also, if they are going through constant developmental changes, it is important to know how to adapt our classrooms and accountability so that they can connect to what we are attempting to teach to them. If we are listening to their needs and are adaptable in how we help them to find their best capacities, they will be able to achieve and grow in their academic and personal goals.

Lonely young latina woman sitting on bed. Depressed hispanic girl at home, looking away with sad expression.

I also think in today’s world counselors ought to be available for students. There are just too many issues to deal with that are beyond the scope of what teachers are able to offer. Having that personal support enables students to have a place to deal with some life issues that may be key to their academic success.

Schools also need a behavior management system that is not punitive but is designed to engage students back into school appropriately. There needs to be consequences for inappropriate behaviors but those consequences should provide students with a path back to wholeness and restoration for offences that occur through the day.

What I have described is what we do at Lakeside for hundreds of students each year. Lakeside also trains schools to be proactive in how dysregulated students are cared for each day. We recognize that it is possible for any school to become more mindful and therapeutic for their students if they are committed to that educational environment. There is no better time for schools to take steps to provide a school environment that provides academic support in an environment that is both emotionally and relationally healthy.

Gerry Vassar


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