Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, February 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Fog 28° Fog
Marketing >  Sponsored

Emotions Matter: emotional intelligence key to better health, learning and relationships

Reduce Stress, Improve Learning

It’s not always easy for adults to remember exactly what high school was like. Time tends to soften the harsher side of history, leaving our memories colored by what we want to remember rather than what we actually experienced.

But just talk to some of today’s teenagers and you’re likely to get a quick reminder of just how hard those school years sometimes were.

Listen, for example, to Spokane high school senior Larissa Caldeira. In the fall, the 18-year-old Rogers High School student will enter Gonzaga University on a full scholarship. That kind of achievement should please anyone, and it certainly pleases Caldeira.

Yet when asked to list the top emotions she experiences now on a daily basis as a high school student, she rattles them off: stress, anxiety, fatigue and nervousness.

“Stressed and anxious kind of go hand in hand,” she said. “Even when things aren’t necessarily things that I would stress about, it’s something that I constantly feel.”

Caldeira admits she feels happy, too, especially when she puts in the required hard work to finish an assignment. “And so you feel relieved when it’s done and you’re happy about what you’ve accomplished,” she said.

Her reaction reflects almost exactly what many of her fellow U.S. students are feeling. (Neither she nor any other student quoted in this story participated in the Emotion Revolution survey.) According to results from the Emotion Revolution online survey (see sidebar), four of the five most prevalent emotions felt by the 22,000 respondents were negative: tired, stressed, bored and anxious – as well as happy.

Created by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and supported by performing artist Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, the Emotion Revolution survey targeted U.S. students between grades 9 and 12. Its intent was to reach out directly to students to gauge both what their school experience was and what they wanted it to be. Some 514 students from Washington and Idaho participated in the spring 2015 survey, which culminated in the “Emotion Revolution Summit” at Yale last fall. Some 250 students from across the United States showed up, along with educators, all with the goal of attuning schools to social emotional learning. Also on hand were Lady Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, who heads The Born This Way Foundation.

Marc Brackett, Ph.D., director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, explained the survey’s intent: “Our goal (was) to create a ‘call to action’ to America’s schools to take seriously the social and emotional development of youth.”

The goal of addressing both the emotional and academic needs of students is already a concern that many area school administrators take seriously. But solving the myriad problems facing those who educate today’s youth is complex.

“I think the pressures that are facing our students are very layered,” said Wendy Bleeker, Director of Student Services for Spokane Public Schools. “It depends on the student. We have a large group of students that are facing complex trauma issues, which are kind of aside from the academic pressure they’re looking at.”

Those “trauma issues,” Bleeker said, can include everything from incarcerated parents and potential homelessness to bullying and harassment. For students who take advantage of the free breakfasts and lunch programs, the attendant emotional pressures tend to increase when school is not in session.

“For some kids, who really depend on the school system for support that they don’t necessarily have at home, I think it (school closure) can cause additional stress,” said Shawn Jordan, the district’s Supervising Director of Secondary Programs & Special Services. “We see that at winter break time.”

School districts do what they can to provide student support in a number of ways, both during regular school hours and during breaks. Spokane Public Schools has increased the number of in-school counselors, and the district has joined others in increasing specialized faculty and staff training, in offering an expanded range of extracurricular and summer activities, in promoting mentorship and peer-tutoring programs and by partnering with a variety of community organization such as the Spokane Police Activities League (Spokane PAL).

And those efforts are directed at all students, from those who are dealing with trauma to those simply feeling the natural day-to-day pressures involved in progressing from one stage of school to the next.

“There are always kids moving up to the next grade level, wondering what middle school’s going to be like or what high school’s going to look like,” Bleeker said. “So we do transition programs where the middle school kids meet at high school and they have a mentor who walks them around. They find their locker, they get their schedule, they walk through (the process).”

Transitional years in focus.

One curricular emphasis at Spokane Public Schools involves what is called “T-2-4,” which is a change from the traditional push of students toward four-year college to one that includes two-year institutions and trade schools. T-2-4 comprises four main goals, which collectively involve helping kids from all backgrounds develop their full potential and succeed at whatever level of higher education they choose.

But David Crump stresses the need for an added emphasis. Crump, who works in Spokane Public Schools’ mental health program and is principal of the Map School (a high school designed, he says, for “emotionally fragile kids”), adds a fifth goal to the T-2-4 list.

“Oftentimes the four goals across the top are seen,” Crump said, “but what is missed is the foundation of all that, and that’s the social and emotional. Because you can have the best curriculum in the world, and the best teachers in the world, and if you can’t pay attention or permit that learning into your mind, you can’t move it forward. So those four goals actually are five.”

No one need tell that to the staff and faculty members at McDonald Elementary in the Central Valley School District. To them, the emotional needs of their students are as diverse as they are all-important.

“I think of what is impacting the life of each of my students, and it varies so much,” said third-grade teacher Aaron Dahlgren. “I have some kids who are worrying about food and where they’re going to stay, whatever it may be, and then some who have parents at home talking with them about school and college.”

The key, Dahlgren says, is to identify the needs and to come up with the right educational strategies. “To me, it’s all about that individual student,” Dahlgren said.

McDonald school counselor Melissa Scott recognizes that the concerns of students from Kindergarten through fifth-grade differ from those that face high school or even middle school students. “I think the future for our students looks different,” she said. “Maybe it’s tomorrow as opposed to ‘What am I going to do for a career?’”

Scott leads training sessions for the McDonald faculty, and the training she provides follows the philosophy espoused by McDonald Elementary Principal Scott Kentrel, which involves what he calls working with “the whole child.”

Needs are often larger than class learning.

“And there are two parts to that,” Kentrel said. “One of them is to get to the trigonometry, you have to take care of this person first. It’s like the hierarchy of needs, right? Feed me, give me a little love, give me some shelter, and maybe I can learn something.”

What Kentrel refers to as the hierarchy of needs is something that many of the Emotion Revolution survey respondents crave but seem to be lacking. The five most frequently desired emotions expressed by the Washington and Idaho students were, in order, to be happy, excited, energized, confident and relaxed. Yet the emotions they actually felt were, as previously mentioned, overwhelmingly negative.

Alayna Christlieb, 16, is a junior at Central Valley High School. Though she was apprehensive when she moved up from Evergreen Middle School, Christlieb quickly adapted.

“I was really scared because I was going to be at the bottom of the food chain again,” she said. “I had just made my way to the top (at Evergreen). I was going into ninth grade and there were seniors and all the older kids. But they were really nice, so there was not that much to worry about.”

Still, when asked to list three emotions she feels on a daily basis at school, Christlieb is far less positive: “Tired,” she said. “And stressed. I can’t really think of a third.”

She’s happy when she connects with her friends, she says. “And getting good grades is a positive thing, also, and it makes me feel good about my future and stuff,” she added. “But at the same time, it’s also hard to get good grades, which is the stressful part.”

Christlieb is less sure that her teachers ever get to know their students as individuals. “I don’t think they actually know us as people because we don’t talk a lot,” she said. “There are other students in class and we’re all working, so there’s not really enough time to get to know each other.”

Max Gillmer, 17, a junior at Lewis and Clark High School, says the biggest stressors facing today’s high school are tied to expectations. In addition to the day-to-day concerns that the McDonald Elementary School students feel, Gillmer and his fellow high school students feel pushed to face their respective futures.

“I think the main pressure that students feel, especially as high school goes on, is what they’re going to do after high school,” Gillmer said. Even given that such curricular emphases as T-2-4 has “broadened” the educational experience, he says, “It still puts stress on the students of what they think is best for them and how they think they’re going to get there – especially how they think they’re going to get there financially.”

Teacher attention key to personal connection, success.

As for whether he believes his teachers are able to make personal connections with students, Gillmer says students usually have to make the first step. “I think a lot of the time if the students goes to the teacher first, and tries to connect with them, then the teachers (will respond). … But a lot of the time because the teachers are so busy, they don’t think of going to the student first.”

Rogers High senior Caldeira agrees. As one of two student representatives serving on the Spokane Public Schools board of directors (the other is L.C. senior Kahlil Wilson-Moore), Caldeira believes at least part of her job is to inform voting board members of what challenges today’s students face.

“People on the board, they’ve been out of school for a while,” she said, “so they don’t know what it’s like to be there anymore.”

And among those challenges, Caldeira says, is finding teachers who are most understanding of the pressures that students labor under – including the piling on of homework.

“I’ve had a couple of teachers who really care about what is going on in my family and will sit and talk with me if something is going on,” she said. “But I’ve had teachers who won’t say a word to you that doesn’t have to do with homework or with tests.”

Too much homework, in particular, is a complaint that Caldeira shares with both Christlieb and Gillmer. And, she says, one thing teachers could do to make the school experience more enjoyable would be to alleviate that source of stress.

“If one ‘C’ wasn’t detrimental to your GPA, I think it would be a little better,” Caldeira says. “Or if one test didn’t bring you down three letter grades. Or if it was more important for you to get enough sleep than to finish all your homework. Or to be happy at school instead of crying while you’re trying to read this book because you’re so emotionally drained, as some kids are.”

Anxiety on the rise – and not just among students.

Maybe this is as it always was. Maybe such pressures have always confronted high school students. Then again, maybe not. Map School principal Crump says increased anxiety affects not just school-age children but is reflective of a larger societal problem.

“We’re seeing a rise in severe anxiety and depression, and that’s from teenagers all the way to retirees,” he said.

The reasons for this rise are multi-dimensional, Crump said, but the means of both identifying and tackling the problem in school have become part of the ongoing conversation in education. And part of that conversation at Spokane Public Schools, he adds, involves recognizing the limits of what schools can do and what part families and the larger community can play.

“I think schools are stepping up to the plate,” Crump says. “But there needs to be that family component. We have kids being raised by grandparents, or being raised by friends’ parents, or homeless. That’s where the community and the school can step up, but we need to do it together.”

As for the role that schools can and should play, let’s allow McDonald Elementary’s Kentrel to have the final word. Kentrel talks about the “three-legged stool” of school, family and community.

“We can be the strongest leg that we can be, and that’s our privilege to play that role,” he said. “But to work the best, you do need those other pieces.”

Regardless of how strong those other legs ever become, though, Kentrel offers up a mantra that all school district would be wise to follow.

“Let’s just focus on the leg of the stool that we own, so to speak” he said. “These kids are worth it. They’re worth our 110 percent. We control 9 to 3, so by God that’s going to be the best 9 to 3 we can give them.”

National survey shows NW students feel more lonely, afraid

According to a national survey conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, high school students in Washington and Idaho tend to feel more afraid, ashamed, hopeless and lonely than the national average. And the national average is bad enough. The survey indicates that four out of the top five emotions U.S. students experience at school are predominantly negative.

The Emotion Revolution survey, which was created by the Yale Center and supported by performing artist Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, polled some 22,000 students across the country between the ages of 13 to 19. Among that number were 514 students from Washington and Idaho, who were surveyed between April and July, 2015.

The aim of the survey was to “examine how students feel at school, how their educational and social experiences at school relate to their feelings, and how they aspire to feel at school.” To reach as many students as possible, a link to the survey was distributed through Facebook, various youth-serving organizations, a large list of schools and school districts and through Lady Gaga’s social-media channels.

The survey involved a three-stage process. First, students were asked to write down both three emotions they typically feel at school and three emotions they “would like to experience at school.” Second, they were asked to consult a list of 28 emotions and rate “how frequently they experienced certain emotions” on a scale from 0=never to 100=always. Finally, they were asked to report “how often they experienced” each of 23 different school experiences – again, on a scale from 0=never to 100=always.

Washington and Idaho students rated the top five emotions they tended to feel at school in this order: tired, stressed, bored, happy and anxious. These responses mirrored the national response. Of the emotions that students most frequently wanted to feel at school, the top five listed among Washington and Idaho students were happy, excited, energized, confident and relaxed.

As for emotions the survey respondents experienced most frequently, negativity again was prominent. Students reported feeling stressed (79.8 percent of the time), bored (69.5 percent), frustrated (65.4 percent) and nervous (59.5 percent). In each of these categories, Washington and Idaho students exceeded the reported national averages; those feeling “stressed,” for example, surpassed the national results by several percentage points.

As for common school experiences, some 71 percent of the Washington and Idaho students surveyed reported they were able to do well if they put effort into their schoolwork. Some 62.3 percent reported feeling at least one teacher knew their interests, that teachers encouraged discussion of class material (61.2 percent), but also that scores on standardized tests mattered more than anything else (61.1 percent).

“Washington and Idaho students felt less frequently than the national sample that competition between them was encouraged,” the report concluded, “and also less frequently that they learned ways to handle strong emotions.”

Wordcount: 2347

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter

There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email

You have been successfully subscribed!

Top stories in Sponsored