Why safe learning environments are crucial

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Rochester students and parents are unequivocal: They prioritize social and emotional support and career-linked education programs as part of a high-quality education. Academic outcomes and curricula, while on the list, are not as important.

Shanai Lee

These are preliminary findings of a recent survey conducted by the Rochester Education Fellowship as it seeks to engage, empower, and mobilize families and community members to create a bold and innovative vision for education. Parents, students, educators, and community members took part in the survey.

As the REF Fellow, I am working to develop a plan that articulates the educational priorities and goals of our families, teachers, and community members. These results surprised me somewhat—in the past, parents and students have placed a higher value on academic rankings. 

Writes one survey respondent: “I think having full support to meet a child’s needs is critical and needs to be linked to schools but not always handled by schools. Make sure available resources are identified and utilized, and partnerships with (Community Based Organizations) maintained or enhanced so that we can work together, in concert, to ensure the success of our students.” 

Nearly 65 percent of respondents picked school support for social and emotional well-being as a priority for the Fellow to address. Research has shown that emotional safety and wellness is linked to academic performance. Learning through COVID-19 and dealing with rising violence in our streets have resulted in students feeling insecure and anxious. No matter the mode of instruction, mental health support is essential to ensure our parents and students know that they belong and deserve a quality education.

Safe learning environments—for teachers and students—bring out the best in them. Learners who find healthy ways to cope with emotions and stress are likely to feel safer and trusted by a teacher who checks in to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. Let’s not forget that our teachers have also been through a lot of change as well. They’ve had to adapt, find new ways to engage students in remote learning and cope with a crisis that, like the rest of the community, they were unprepared to handle. COVID-19 has been a stress test for parents, students and educators alike.

Also high on the list of a desirable education are relevant educational experiences that prepare students for career and life. Slightly more than 65 percent of survey respondents think the Fellow should pay attention fostering a school system that helps students get ready for the future. Students could become more engaged and motivated if they had an idea of what they have the aptitude for, and where they can see themselves as productive members of society. Educators play a key role in helping our youth make well-informed decisions.

To ensure our we develop a school system that has these structures and support in place, we need a united vision. How can we create an environment where students and educators feel secure? Can we align curriculum to assist students with career paths? Do we have opportunities for students to link the classroom to potential careers?

In designing this vision, I need to hear from more of you. It is through our community’s voices that I will be able to better understand needs and examine the implications of a bold step forward. To learn about the Fellowship and upcoming engagement opportunities, please visit www.RocEdFellow.net

Shanai Lee MBA, EdD is the recipient of the Rochester Education Fellowship. The Fellowship seeks to engage, empower, and mobilize students, families, educators, and community members to create a bold and innovative vision for education in Rochester.

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2 thoughts on “Why safe learning environments are crucial

  1. Giving children agency, confidence, faith in adults ability to make them happy and allow them to grow and function productively needs to start at very early ages.
    G2 Rochester, (short for “Generation Two”) has been functioning in the RCSD and some suburban schools for 15 years. Older adults, and college students, commit to 20 minutes to an hour a week for uninterupted time with a student, in the school. “What would you like to play today” sets the stage. The adult makes no suggestions. The child runs the show. The adult gives the child undivided attention, and a relationship of friendship and love evolves. This can grow to a mentoring relationship later on.

    a study at the U of R has documented great results. Google G2 Rochester. There are always volunteer opportunities. All that is needed is a committment to stick with that child, and as little as 20 minutes a day has been shown to work. The Director has identified school principals and teachers who welcome this program in their school. There is no labelling of need, all children can benefit.

  2. It doesn’t all have to happen in the schools. Remember the public libraries! The Rochester Public Library has the Safe to be Smart afterschool program in six city libraries and it offers everything you are describing here, particularly mentoring for social/emotional support and career exploration through traditional and virtual reality methods. The library partners with many youth organizations to support teens through the anxiety and stress of the pandemic and a very violent year.

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