by Morgan Ome

I credit my primary education for many things, like instilling in me a deep love for poetry, jazz and nature, cultivating my curiosity for how the world operates and introducing me to life-long friends. However, reflecting on the some of the most formative years of my childhood, the most important skill I gained from pre-K through 8th grade was a a strong foundation of emotional intelligence.

From age four to fourteen, I attended a school where Social Emotional Learning (SEL) functioned as a central part of the curriculum. I learned to speak using “I-statements,” and focus on my own feelings rather than shifting the blame onto others. I learned how to work towards resolving conflicts in a productive way instead of letting anger overrule my head. And I learned to approach every interaction, every conversation with empathy and compassion.

These skills had many practical, immediate effects. I had the tools to de-escalate arguments with my parents. I felt comfortable being open about my own feelings and sharing them with others. As a result, I developed deep and meaningful relationships, worked on developing conflict/resolution skills and had the opportunity to figure out who I was in an open and accepting environment.

However, when I entered high school, I realized that the experiences and tools that I had been afforded through SEL were not commonplace. Being in a school where SEL was not taught, and where emotional wellbeing was not a priority helped me to understand better why it so necessary.

I moved from California to Hawaii, where I knew no one and where I felt very out of place. Though I was not slammed into lockers or pushed down stairs, I was bullied as a freshman to such an extent that I transferred schools for my sophomore year. At the time, I didn’t understand why people wouldn’t eat lunch with me or why they wouldn’t talk to me. In hindsight, I know that being bullied was less about me and more about them. While I was going through the experience though, it was extremely painful. I spoke up, tried to be empathetic towards those who berated me, and when those things failed, decided to leave.

Emotional awareness has served me in so many situations, not just during my freshman year of college. I serve as an editor for my college newspaper, and at every meeting pose a question for the other editors and writers to answer. It is an exercise similar to the emotional check-in I would do in my middle school classes, but the idea is to make people pause and self-reflect briefly. It also helps the group understand I also lead affirmation circles, where we share positive and supportive comments about each other. These small activities help to foster a sense of community and build trust between the newspaper editors.

I will soon be entering my senior year, something I have not quite grasped. It is difficult to carve out time for myself between classes and extracurriculars and studying, but I try to remind myself that nurturing my emotional and mental health is equally important to my physical wellbeing. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I overwork myself. But I also know that these habits are unhealthy and unsustainable. I am actively working towards being more mindful and doing things to take care of myself emotionally.

Since coming to college, I’ve become more politically active, as many young people do when they leave home and start to develop a stronger sense of self. SEL has taught me

quite a bit about activism. I’ve tried to become more attuned to the issues and problems that afflict marginalized groups, even if I myself am not affected. And I also understand the importance of speaking my truth and raising my voice to advocate for causes that I am passionate about.

In March, I attended the March for Our Lives, a youth-led movement calling for greater gun control measures and an end to mass shootings. Since I go to school in Baltimore, I was able to take the commuter train down to Washington, D.C. and watch people younger than me take the stage and pour their hearts out in articulate and impassioned speeches. They did not shy away from their emotions, nor did they let their feelings overrule and dictate their actions.

It is important to look within and self-reflect on how we are feeling, the ways in which we can better ourselves, and how our actions affect others. Simultaneously, we must also look outwards at the world, examine the ways in which we all intersect, and ask ourselves how we can contribute to a collective sense of empathy.

Morgan Ome is a senior at the Johns Hopkins University studying Writing and Italian. She is the editor-in-chief of The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the independent, student-run newspaper. Originally from the Bay Area, she now lives in Baltimore, MD.

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