Care, Connection, and Community

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Oregon Department of Education - Oregon achieves - together

New Care and Connection Resources Available

To: Oregon Superintendents and Principals, Private Schools, Reopening Advisors, Charter School Leaders, Public Information Officers, School Nurses, School Counselors and Mental Health Professionals, Education Partners 
From: Colt Gill, Director, Oregon Department of Education
Date: August 2, 2022
Re: New Care & Connection Resources for New School Year

Dear School and District Leaders,

Care, connection, and community are the heart of education. Each is essential for ensuring healthy, welcoming school communities where students can learn, and staff can teach and nurture students. As you prepare for the coming school year, please re-review ODE’s Care & Connection Activities suggestions, and other Care & Connection resources and continue to dedicate time and space each school day to foster care, connection, and community. 

This year, we have a new Care & Connection resource, Oregon Classroom WISE, to strengthen mental health and well-being.

Oregon Classroom WISE, A New Care & Connection Resource For This School Year

This year, we’re adding a dynamic new resource, Oregon Classroom WISE (Oregon CW),  a suite of free print and video resources, guided tutorials, role plays, and interviews with youth and school personnel. This self-guided content for adults and youth is filled with tools for enhancing mental health and well-being and covers many important topics such as building safe, healthy relationships, best practices for supporting youth experiencing life challenges and distress, and skills for handling challenging behaviors. 

You’ll find customized learning pathways for community-based organizations, educators, administrators and mental health professionals, students, and families, to address their specific needs.

By offering youth and adults additional skills for coping with and responding to the stressors and strains that most of us are experiencing right now, it is our hope that we can work collectively with you to enhance community well-being and stress resilience, and reduce the incidence of emotional, social and behavioral challenges. We encourage you to check out this fantastic suite of resources, share them with school staff, parents, and local partners, and form learning groups to increase mental health promotion knowledge and skills in your community.

Building On Last Year’s Care & Connection Work

Last year, we were excited to see that more than half of Oregon’s school districts kicked off the school year with Care & Connection. Many of you continued to devote time to cultivating healthy relationships and communities throughout the school year.

We’ve compiled some inspiring examples from across the state from 2021-2022 here.

Each of these strategies focused on key elements of building healthy school communities including:

  • Welcoming students, families, and staff back to school with fun activities, and providing ample opportunities to connect.
  • Promoting a sense of community and togetherness, and engaging students and families in decision-making. 
  • Aligning Care & Connection efforts with health and safety messaging.
  • Connecting Care & Connection activities to strengths-based, trauma- and social-emotional learning-informed, equity-centered mental health/health promotion and prevention.

Building care, connection, and community takes time, but a wealth of research shows that it is a worthwhile investment. In addition to providing time to connect with students and families, we ask school administrators to provide staff and educators with permission and ample time to build care, connection, and community with each other and with students each day. 

We encourage you to take the time and space you and your staff need to grow and sustain safe, inclusive, invitational spaces that allow each person to be where they are at any given moment and offer creative opportunities for exploration. Because each person makes meaning of the world in different ways, it is essential that activities be invitational, not required. Consider fun “getting to know you” exercises, greeting students at the classroom door each day, and using art, music, movement, nature and other opportunities for students and staff to express themselves. 

The Care & Connection webpage includes several communication tools including customizable messages and social media copy for messages to families. Please feel free to modify these materials to fit the specific needs of your district, school, or community. You can also find additional resources for strengthening school community mental health on ODE’s Mental Health and Well-being webpage.

We’re excited to begin another school year with Care & Connection and are committed to supporting you in that effort. If you have any questions or feedback, please contact Dr. B Grace Bullock.