BURLINGTON COUNTY, NJ -- It’s no secret that we are all struggling with feeling isolated during the pandemic. People want to return to some sense of normalcy, but that has been a huge challenge.
Even though Burlington County Institute of Technology (BCIT) has embraced the hybrid model of instruction for the students, it’s anything but normal. Students and staff are accustomed to being connected and supported by their friends, colleagues and teachers but the pandemic has changed the school experience for everyone. Social distancing, remote learning, and quarantines have impacted the social and emotional well-being of just about everyone.
BCIT administrators, staff, and students are committed to helping one another during these unprecedented times.
As Superintendent of Schools, I have embarked upon a mission over four years ago to promote social and emotional wellbeing starting with the certification of a guidance counselor in applied positive psychology to turnkey support for staff and students in the district and the promotion of goals and professional development within each of the buildings to support our staff on the principles of mindfulness, self-care, and social and emotional wellbeing.
Now, especially under the current pandemic, a focus has been on the administrative team to support their optimal wellbeing so as to be there for the staff and students. We are fortunate in the district to have dedicated staff who are cognizant of the overall wellbeing of students and not just the academic and CTE instructional needs. Our special COVID-19 schedule was designed specifically with the social and emotional needs of students and staff in mind.
This year, the BCIT Staff Equity Champions have led professional development for the staff with a focus on brain-based instruction and student success with a strong emphasis on building positive relationships between students and staff. As a result, staff members have incorporated activities designed to promote wellness into their classrooms and in the school.
Recenlty, staff at the Westampton campus focused their training on the social and emotional well-being of adults. The workshop focused on applied positive psychology and mindfulness as the pillars of self-care through trauma. Student Assistance Counselor Colleen Cech, who is one of the Equity Champions and facilitated the workshop said, “Vital self-care is essential for resiliency.”
BCIT students in various clubs have taken the initiative to help people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Student organizations at the Medford and Westampton campuses have heeded the call to action and launched a virtual Google site that serves as an excellent resource with a variety of self-care apps. Club advisers Mr. Pensabene, Ms. Brownridge, and Ms. Cech are so impressed by the students’ efforts to create the Google site themselves--and it appears to be a hit.
Student Alivia Nawrocki said, “I love it!! It will benefit students for sure and it’s super easy to follow and navigate!”
Bulletin boards, themed weeks, an upbeat atmosphere at the beginning and end of the school day, special treats, heartfelt messages, and frequent staff-student check-ins, have all been devoted to ensuring that students' social and emotional well-being have been at the forefront of hybrid learning during the pandemic. BCIT recognizes that parents are an important piece to students' success. Counselors and case managers have created a community wellness webpage to support parents through this difficult time.
The pandemic has certainly changed the look of school right now, but at BCIT, the administrators, staff and students are putting on their best smiles and taking care of one another.