By JAMES BELL
Realizing the importance of soft skills and their importance for students to use their academic skills successfully after graduation, Thomas More Prep-Marian is working with students to instill those skills in students alongside their traditional studies.
"As a state, we've kind of said, 'Hey, maybe we've focused so much on academic skills, we've let some of the soft skills, the executive functioning skills about interacting with others slide and maybe, we need to get back and focus on that,'" said Thomas More Prep-Marian principal Chad Meitner.
With the pandemic directly impacting students, he said helping students learn to cope is a pressing concern.
"When we're up against a stressful situation, anxiety, a hardship in our lives, that manifests itself in other areas," Meitner said. "And so our kids are no different. They're going to come to school, carrying some of that baggage from home and from life. And so yeah, we're doing some really cool things, I think, in our community systems to help address those things we're seeing."
But while the pandemic brought these issues to the surface, he said it had been a growing concern across the state.
"Even prior to the pandemic, the state of Kansas, the education department, did a lot of surveys with business leaders, asking them, what did they want to see in graduates from the colleges and the high schools that were coming to them for jobs," Meitner said.
"What by far, the top things were soft skills. When you looked at it, it wasn't that they were better at calculus. It wasn't that they could have better grammar in the writing. Those are still important. You still have to have those skills to get to get those jobs.
"But they all were noticing a lack of, the ability to introduce (themselves) and have that small talk in a comfortable way and the ability to organize their day and be on time and just some of those things that maybe we took for granted."
With the religious education offered at TMP, he said empathy and compassion also factor into those missing skills.
"As a Catholic school, we also want to make sure that we're treating people right, that we have empathetic hearts and a heart of service.
"You learn from our faith that we are put on this Earth to serve God and to serve [your] neighbor. And so that really dovetails nicely with all these skills we're trying to learn because it's about loving."
So he said they have taken that need into account in their faith teaching, tweaking it a little bit for the needs of this current generation.
The school is also talking about dealing with negative feelings and thoughts and how to address conflicts.
"You do take a class in a sense on those skills," Meitner said, "but then another way we do that is just by doing things together in that community."
He hopes those skills will translate to students who are better able to deal with negative situations.
"When you do go through a depressive state or a rough patch in your life, especially our young kids, we want them to know that it's time to reach out. It's okay to ask a peer, preferably a trusted adult, for that kind of help," Meitner said.
Even at TMP in recent years, he said negative thoughts and emotions have become more prevalent in the school.
"We take a survey every year, and we have for at least seven, eight years at TMP-Marion. Some of the data we get back is about how long have they been depressed about something for longer than two weeks, how long have they had suicidal thoughts, a lot of those tough topics.
"It's anonymous data, but it's a survey that gives us a chance to see how big of a problem it is within our student body," Meitner said. "And, you know, unfortunately, we see just like in the society around us, there is just a little more of that in our kids' lives right now."
Using that data, teachers can now be more proactive and help students understand what is going on within themselves.
And with teachers asked to more than ever before, having those abilities can be a tremendous benefit.
"Teachers in all schools are being asked more and more to be more than just providers of content and teachers of material," Meitner said.
"They're also asked to be a counselor. They're asked to be a social worker. They're asked to be a health coach ... and they're very willing to do that.
"Our teachers at TMP Marian are just amazing in their hearts, how big they are, because they're there for the kids. They'll do what it takes.
"This is one of those things that this year ... we're going to focus on building those skills, soft skills for professionals, but also mental health skills so that they can have a quality of life that we think they deserve."