Editorial: Reaching out to Shelter Island’s young

Growing up has always been a difficult progression. From the time we go to school until our late teens or early 20s, we’re under the pressure of expectations by parents, teachers, coaches and peers. Finding our feet emotionally to deal with maturity is far from easy. Added to that is, for most young people, the question of what to do with their lives, in the area of work, goals and commitment to a set of beliefs.

Today it’s even worse. Not only are the age-old difficulties the same as in every previous generation, but the digital world has added immense complications. Pop culture is hurtling at young people at 100 miles an hour 24 hours a day from ubiquitous screens, including the ones in the palms of their hands. If it were only escapism, that would be one thing, but the digital escape hatches can sometimes lead to dark caverns where young people can be thrown off balance trying to discover what’s right, wrong and what has meaning.

In school, it used to be if you were having emotional trouble, the prescription was, “Grow up,” which was no cure for the kid trying to find guidance to do just that. 

Shelter Island School’s Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ph.D., School Social Worker Michele Albano and School Psychologist Danielle Spears are to be commended for taking the initiative to understand the stress kids are under and find ways to relieve it, while also promoting social values they’ll need as they become more mature. They’ve introduced a program called SEL — Social and Emotional Learning (see story, page 6), which, among other things, helps children manage their emotions. The social worker and psychologist are in the classrooms with the children working through set lessons, with the result that they come to know the kids one-to-one. Their first meeting with a child is not when they’re sent to their offices because of trouble, but they know them as individuals through class settings.

SEL is not just a feel-good idea, but a practical program that helps children along the road to maturity. According to a study done in 2011 involving more than 270,000 students, those participating in SEL programs improved 11% in recorded academic achievement. Improved classroom behavior was noted, dropout rates went down and there was a marked decrease in drug use, teen pregnancy and criminal behavior. 

Congratulations and good luck to the school officials who are involved in the new course of action. One reaction is already in: “The students have been phenomenal,” Ms. Spears said.