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Tucker business owner receives CARES Act funds to help DeKalb students cope with emotions

Business COVID-19 Tucker

Tucker business owner receives CARES Act funds to help DeKalb students cope with emotions

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Pamela McNall of Tucker is the creator of Respectful Ways, a digital program that addresses the social and emotional needs of K-12 students. Photo provided to Decaturish


This story has been updated.

By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor

Tucker, GA — A DeKalb County commissioner committed this week to allocate Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to a Tucker business owner who is addressing students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) around COVID-19.

Commissioner Nancy Jester’s office told Pamela McNall that her education company, Respectful Ways, a SEL program for students in Kindergarten to 12th grade, will receive $25,000 of the $125 million in CARES Act funding being distributed by DeKalb County before the end of the year.

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CARES Act funds provide assistance for personal protection equipment (PPE), food outreach programs, public health initiatives, rent assistance, essential workers and small businesses. Respectful Ways’ newest curriculum addresses overcoming trauma, transforming emotional pain, and navigating anxiety related to the pandemic.

“We are in a race against time. Children have been greatly affected by COVID-19, and they need a trauma-informed social and emotional learning program to help them transform emotional pain to healing,” said McNall, an award-winning journalist and active volunteer in DeKalb County.

Respectful Ways promotes perseverance, respect, responsibility, and compassion. It’s delivered online by educators and school counselors, so it works whether students are in person or learning virtually. At home, families tap into digital tools ranging from videos that feature Atlanta hip-hop artists to conversation cards for continued family learning. Interactive content is offered in English and Spanish.

With CARES Act funds, McNall plans to hand out 100 educational modules to dozens of schools throughout DeKalb County

The current mental health of parents and children is suffering due to social isolation, school and childcare closures, and psychological distress, according to a recent study.

Published in September by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a study shows that since March, 27 percent of parents’ mental health had worsened, and 14 percent of their children’s behavior had intensified. More than 1,000 parents were asked to share ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the physical and emotional well-being of parents and children.

Disrupted routines are hard on children — particularly those with behavioral problems – and the pandemic may have worsened their behavior because of challenges in accessing both office- and school-based mental health services during school closures.

While parents and administrators are at odds over returning to school, students still need access to social and emotional learning (SEL).

Locally, Respectful Ways is already in schools in Gwinnett, Carrolton, Jasper, Pickens, and Coweta counties, as well as private schools.

The benefit of a program like this, according to Laura Morse, a psychotherapist in private practice in DeKalb County, is that SEL gets kids talking about and recognizing their feelings.

“It is necessary to get back to basics. Kids need to learn how to identify and understand their feelings,” she said. “We need to give kids the tools to talk about their feelings because it can help build resiliency, manage stress, and increase compassion.”

She added, “Things have been so hard, and often times kids don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Parents tend to shelter kids because they don’t want kids to be anxious or sad or hurt. SEL is about building resiliency: Sending the message that it is okay to ask for help; to identify when you need something and somebody.”

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Angela Barnett, mom of five, has two students in DeKalb County schools.

At the elementary school level, she said parents are seen as partners. Once students reach middle school, students receive SEL content at school while parent-teacher associations typically address parents separately. The older grades focus on heftier issues like social media, suicide prevention, drugs and alcohol.

At the elementary school level, there is a way to bring kindness and sharing to every lesson, Barnett said.

“The PTA works hard to develop programs that teach kids to be empathetic,” she said, citing programs on civic engagement with homeless, refugee, and elderly community members.

DeKalb County is the third largest school district in Georgia. With more than 100,000 students in 140 schools, DeKalb County has provided SEL support through curriculum, professional development for all staff, parent meetings, and publications.

A district spokesperson said, “We have student support personnel assigned to schools that work in support district efforts. School counselors, social workers, nurses/student health professionals, psychologists and other staff play an integral role in supporting students and families.”

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