Sandy Spring Friends School



Resources for Helping Students Return to In-Person Learning

Resources for Helping Students Return to In-Person Learning

SSFS counselors Joel Gunzburg, Erin Rose, Elizabeth Billett, and Beatrice Adewole share what we’ve been doing in each division here at SSFS to help reestablish connections and support our students as they return to in-person learning:

The first weeks of school were filled with palpable excitement as we welcomed all of our new and returning students to campus again after virtual and hybrid learning in 2020-2021. From the littlest preschoolers to our young-adult seniors, students were eager to meet their teachers, see new and old friends, and enjoy the beauty of our campus. The hallways were once again filled with laughter and unbridled energy as students navigated their classes. What a joy to see!

Whether school was virtual, hybrid, or in-person, over the past 18 months every student profoundly felt the effect of the pandemic on their academic experience in some way. We are also mindful that the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health across kids of all ages. For the 2021-2022 school year, students may have new worries or anxieties, stress reactions, and “rusty” social skills. 

The counselors at SSFS wanted to share some of the ongoing, intentional efforts to support and reintegrate students, build social connections, and strengthen the feeling of community. In each division, students are participating in a variety of activities to help them get acclimated to school. Here are a few of the highlights:

Lower School (Preschool - Grade 5):

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Building Connections: In the Lower School, we have begun our SHINE classes, a standalone social-emotional learning (SEL) class, which will take place weekly and will address a number of different areas of social-emotional wellness.  As we begin to learn more about each other in this first month of school, our focus will be sharing what we want our friends to know most about us and also getting curious about what we can learn about our friends. Starting the year by forming these strong bonds of connection is essential as we strive to build a community where all of our members feel a sense of belonging. Our SHINE curriculum will continue to have students looking for all perspectives and voices in each topic and we are proud to be working closely with the Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging with our SEL curriculum.   

Joel talks with LS students in his SHINE class

Mindful Learning in the Classroom: In the classroom, we have made intentional decisions to promote Guided Discovery and community building. Our Mindful Schools curriculum, which will be delivered to each grade (including preschool) in the Lower School, focuses on the practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose. It will provide our students with a plethora of opportunities to develop resilience, grit, and acceptance of the many challenges of social and academic life. 

Middle School (Grades 6-8):

Building Connections, Finding Routines, & Introducing the Support Team: In the Middle School, the goal of September is getting to know our students and helping them adjust to middle school routines. Students participated in two days of orientation that focused on team-building activities, advisory meetings and lessons on “everything you need to know about middle school.” Students learned about their classes and the rotating day schedule. They met with the support staff--including advisors, the learning specialist, the counselor, and the MS facility dog, Hawkeye. 

MS Facility Dog - Hawkeye

Strengthening Community: Sports and electives were exciting opportunities to have fun and meet classmates. Students had two Meetings For Worship that allowed for quiet reflection. Last week, advisory lessons focused on “what you want our school to be like.” Students contributed ideas for the MS social contract, which will be finalized this week. The theme of strengthening our community will continue in future advisory lessons. The launching of affinity and alliance groups in the next few weeks will offer another opportunity for students to strengthen connections.

MS Sports

Upper School (Grades 9-12):

Building Connections & Getting Acclimated: In the Upper School, students participated in two full days of orientation that focused on learning about their classes and schedule, team-building activities, get-to-know advisory games and activities, and the “not to be missed” Frazzleerham tournament. Students had grade-level meetings with the counselors to hear about the counselor role, ask questions about counseling in general, and share hopes/ needs as well as fears/challenges for the year. 

Additionally, all US students attended the Club Fair to learn about and join extracurricular activities. Athletics and Intramurals have been another opportunity for students to make connections. This week, freshmen began their 9th grade seminar focusing on the social/emotional curriculum, taught by the counselors and including regular meetings with the Assistant Director OIEJB on belonging. 

US Clubs

As the year progresses, we look forward to offering many additional opportunities for students to to develop those deeper relationships with classmates and faculty through division-specific and school wide initiatives. We will continue to be mindful of how students are feeling and coping with challenges. In partnership with families, we want to make sure all students feel cared for and supported. 

For additional strategies on how to support your child, please see:

If you have concerns about how your child is doing, these articles may be helpful:

As always, the counselors are available to support your children and provide resources to families. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your division counselor: Joel Gunzburg,, LS counselor, Erin Rose,, MS counselor, Elizabeth Billett,, US counselor, and Beatrice Adewole,, US Counselor. We look forward to working with you this school year.

In peace, 
Joel, Erin, Elizabeth and Beatrice

Subscribe To The Gnu Stories Podcast:

Listen on Spotify Listen on Apple Podcasts

More Stories