The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for a lot of people. Months of being inside, not interacting with other people changed some people’s perspective and for the youth, it may have affected them more than others.
From going to school for eight hours, five days a week to not leaving your house for a while, it has caused some challenges for younger children.
Seeing children struggling with social and emotional situations after not being around people for an extended period of time is what prompted Shona Moreland, community activist and Indianapolis native, and creator of Ready2bSocial, to create the class which is funded by the Indiana Department of Education and partnering with Indy Parks and recreation department that teaches youth social and emotional development through art, science and role playing.
“I noticed a lot of kids were out of school and doing E-Learning and that was not good for a lot of kids, especially the ones with special needs and the ones that needed that interaction,” Moreland said, “A lot of them missed out on the important skills they would get.
Moreland has worked with children since she was 16. After the passing of her mother, she and her daughter started the Roses of Hope Foundation, a program that provides educational opportunities for children in grades 5-12th.
The class is held at the Bethel Park Family Center and if you walked in their doors in the morning during their class session, you might hear Moreland and her helpers acting out social situations and teaching their students how to respond in certain situations. You might hear them doing crafts, like blowing bubbles through a straw or finger painting.
The ‘fun’ activities Moreland and her assistants plan for their classes directly reflect the lessons they went over in class that day.
For example, if the class was teaching breathing techniques for stressful situations, their activity might be blowing bubbles with a straw into a cup. Moreland wants her class to help its students after they leave the class and go back to school in a more ‘normal’ year.
At the end of each class, Moreland and her instructors go over what they learned in that class and reiterate ways they can use those skills in their daily lives. For encouragement, Moreland has a system set up for the students to earn money and buy small toys as a reward.
After the students leave, the volume level in the room drops and Moreland goes over the class with her team. She talks about what went well and what didn’t and prepares them for their next class.
Her volunteers consist mainly of college-age students from various local and regional colleges who have an interest in the social work field. She said many of them want to be counselors, teachers or social workers.
“Working on this team is good experience for them.” Moreland said. “I know they have the heart and the skills to work with kids.”
Quentin Foltz, a senior social work student at Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis, (IUPUI) works as a behavioral coach with Ready2bSocial.
Growing up, Foltz said he had to go through a lot of the same things the students in the class are currently going through.
“A lot of the kids have very similar experiences to my own,” Foltz said. “Some are in similar spots as me when I was their age. When I come into the building, it feels like I’m working with myself. I see myself in a lot of the kids.”
Foltz looks back on his upbringing and his hardships in life and how they prepared him and have helped him relate to his students on a more personal level.
“I feel like I’m able to use my experience a lot of the time to be able to help relate to the children and college students I’m working with to bring it back to them and help them get to where they want to go,” Foltz said.
Foltz said being able to work with children in the program has been beneficial for him. Before working with the program, he had a lot of experience working with children from his family to his mentorships through his connections at IUPUI.
In the future he hopes to stay in the social work field while going back to school for his masters, hopefully at IUPUI.
Moreland said her class also helps her students become better citizens.
“The class is important because with all of the stuff going on… like crime or COVID, when all the kids were locked out of their classroom settings, the class is a recovery program to get these kids back on track and for the ones who never got the chance to be on track to make sure they have a track to get on,” Moreland explained.
Teaching emotion awareness and coping mechanisms is something Foltz said is extremely important and something that he thinks everybody could benefit from. Through his life experiences, the topics discussed in the classes were things he was just learning in college.
In his work with the program, he has seen a transition and realization about what they are teaching with some of his students.
“I’ve noticed a lot of them breaking out of their shell,” Foltz said, “now they’re talking all the time and they want to communicate with Shona. They’re a lot more comprehensive of everything going on as well.
The summer portion of Ready2bSocial is over but throughout the school year, Moreland and her team will be hosting a class on Sunday afternoons for their students. The classes during the school year are a way for her students to use the skills they learned in the class this summer in their daily lives and are able to report weekly how they used their skills at school and at home.