News Article

Exploring Social Emotional Wellness

A Q & A with OCS Counselors

High School Social Emotional Wellness Counselor Devon Hiltibran and Middle School Social Emotional Wellness Counselor Gaia Altshuler were recently featured in Conejo Valley Lifestyle Magazine’s Wellness Issue (page 25) discussing students returning to in-person learning after COVID-19 lockdowns and remote learning.  

Social Emotional Wellness has become a foundational, educational aspect of many schools. But what is it and how does it help students? Specifically, how does Oaks Christian School approach it? OCStories took a few moments to catch up with Hiltibran and Altshuler to explore these questions. 

Q: Can you define Social Emotional Wellness (SEW) in layman's terms? 

Social emotional wellness is the process through which children and adults learn to navigate the ebbs and flows of life by learning to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. 

Q: What are key components of SEW? 
Social Emotional Wellness is comprised of five equally important components: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. At Oaks Christian we use the BLESSED acronym to offer a picture of the various aspects of our life that contribute to comprehensive wellness and thriving. 

Q: How are students responding to the pandemic this year vs. last year? 

Generally, students are at the point now where they are settling into their new reality and appear to be more flexible when needing to pivot due to the ever-changing nature of COVID-19. Student wellness exists on a spectrum from struggling to thriving, and we are doing our best to meet them exactly where they are in the moment. In comparison to last year, students are engaged in so many more in-person social interactions that they must navigate during the school day that they did not have to navigate when learning remotely last year. Despite these challenges, we are also seeing a heightened awareness of and desire for belonging, connection, purpose, and meaning. Many of our students are also showing lots of joy and excitement to be amongst their peers and engaging in their extracurriculars, hobbies, and passions. 

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Q: How does SEW integrate with our spiritual foundation and how do we implement it in our faith community? 

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into Heaven, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

 We believe in a God who empathizes with our weaknesses, who we can go to with confidence for mercy, grace, protection, and comfort. God’s heart for us is for us to be well. Our mind, body, and soul wellness are interdependent and interconnected. We can’t focus on one without tending to the others.  

We can implement social emotional wellness into our faith community by eradicating the stigma that comes along with struggling, normalizing imperfection and the need for support, and coming alongside of those that need extra support and meeting them where they are. It’s also imperative to empower individuals to prioritize utilizing daily practices (i.e., self-care) that support their long-term wellness and thriving. 

Q: Beside the pandemic, what other issues does SEW address in our students? 

The pandemic is one of the various life stressors that our students experience…it is the icing on the cake to the typical difficulties of being a teenager. Social Emotional Wellness addresses various topics like coping skills, stress management, social skills, executive functioning, empathy, communication skills, compassion for self and others, resiliency, and so much more! There are wellness areas on both the middle and high school campuses that offer space for students to process stressors, expectations, pressures, complex interpersonal dynamics, and any other specific needs. Students are also able to use coping strategies, seek counsel, and emotionally regulate. 

Q: What is your biggest satisfaction working with students in SEW? 

Hiltibran: Supporting student social emotional wellness and thriving is one of my greatest honors in this life. As an alumna, I have a vested interest in helping our students learn more emotional intelligence and resiliency. I love providing students with an opportunity to process their thoughts and feelings, learn new skills, practice communication, and reflect on their life, goals, hopes, and dreams. 

Altshuler: Personally, the greatest satisfaction of working with students is the opportunity to build relationships. It is in the context of relationships that we get to experience genuine breakthroughs, smiles, and wins.