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Difference Makers: Samantha Bryant, Andrea Glass, Emalea Landgraf, Cat Stone, and Betsy VanBeek

Written by: Denise Kipp

Why Teaching life skills in School Is Critical

Difference Makers: Samantha Bryant, Andrea Glass, Emalea Landgraf, Cat Stone, and Betsy VanBeek

According to the World Health Organization, life skills are:

“A group of psychosocial competencies and interpersonal skills that help people make informed decisions, solve problems, think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, build healthy relationships, empathize with others, and cope with and manage their lives in a healthy and responsible manner.”

Mountain Youth began teaching comprehensive life skills to middle school students ten years ago to small groups of students. Since then, the demand for these programs has increased, as school staff realizes the importance of supporting young people’s mental health and social-emotional well-being. Mountain Youth currently implements comprehensive life skills programs for approximately 1,500 students each school year. Our dedicated, passionate, and creative educators making an impact are Samantha Bryant, Andrea Glass, Emalea Landgraf, Cat Stone, and Betsy VanBeek.

While there’s no definitive list of life skills, here are some examples: Communication, Positive self-image development, Growth mindset and self-improvement, Stress management, Anger management, Decision making. All-encompassing skills like these can’t be left to learn in the home setting alone — especially since kids often spend more time in school. While no one can downplay the importance of good academics, it's just not enough without the necessary life skills.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that teens’ average stress level was 5.8 (on a 10 point scale); much higher than the maximum healthy stress level for adults of 3.9. By learning important life skills, young people are better equipped to handle what they’re going through and recognize when they need help. The average student has an overwhelming amount of real-life responsibilities to deal with. Between juggling homework, extracurriculars, and trying to maintain a social life — it can feel like too much sometimes.

Once upon a time, impossibly perfect magazine models posed the biggest triggers of low self-esteem. Until social media. Now young people are bombarded with flawless pictures usually taken out of context. Couple this with the fear of missing out, and you have yourself a recipe for mental turmoil. The internet has created a very different world for our teens to navigate with information faster, better, and easier to attain — more so every year. However, because the information is unfiltered, with extremely complex information and a wide range of stimuli it often lands young people into an emotional mess. Learning life skills helps young people understand who they are and what they want out of life. Mountain Youth’s team of educators brings awareness to modern-day issues and struggles so that teens feel more competent and prepared for the challenges that life brings.

During Mountain Youth’s extraordinary ten years of delivering life skills education, they reached nearly 8,000 students in the Eagle River Valley. This team of educators is proud to support students and help them learn self-regulation and various other tools to assist in their overall wellbeing. Teachers often run into former students out in the valley and report back that their conversations are around skills, tools, and lessons on Social Emotional Learning. These exchanges reinforce the impact our team of educators have had on the youth in our community and the skills they helped them to develop that will last a lifetime.

When I think of the life skills educators and the impact they have had on so many children, the Maya Angelou quote comes to mind “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. This reflects what our life skills educators provide for our community- dedication, and passion for supporting the well-being of the young people in our community. Our valley will treasure the benefits of their teachings for years to come.

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