The types of skills required to care for and advocate for oneself and others—self-regulation, responsibility, empathy, and discipline, among others—are becoming increasingly central to the work of schools and teachers and increasingly relevant to the lifelong success of students.
More and more, educators are recognizing that these skills—often called “social and emotional” skills—are inextricably intertwined with academic skills. Nine out of 10 teachers believe that social-emotional skills can and should be taught in school.
The Director of Residential Life and Dean of Girls, Amie Mondragon, is all too familiar with this ever-growing demand. Beginning her work at Wasatch Academy as a volunteer almost 20 years ago, Mondragon experienced firsthand that building relationships with teens and instilling social-emotional intelligence is a constant learning curve. Having held many different positions with Wasatch Academy before assuming her current role overseeing residential life, Mondragon learned a great deal about connecting with students. She knows that she will discover who they really are and how to support them as they share their goals, fears, insecurities, stories, family pressures, life comforts, and cultural and personal values.
When the National Council on Family Relations reached out to Mondragon to talk more about how she approaches the teaching of soft skills in a boarding school setting, she was eager to share. As a featured columnist for the Summer 2019 Certified Family Life Educator Newsletter, Mondragon shared her in-depth experience of supporting a student when serving as in loco parentis in a boarding school environment.
In the article, Mondragon highlights her use of a research-based residential life curriculum that continuously evolves to best serve the current student body. She writes, “Because these young people are at a boarding school, they are not having dinnertime conversations with parents. We take on that responsibility. This means it is our responsibility to teach the vital ‘soft’ skills in addition to supporting their academic education.”
Within the Residential Life curriculum, Mondragon builds structure and consistency by meeting with students for 40 minutes once a week to present the lessons outlined. Topics covered include healthy relationships, stress and coping, vape education and prevention, the power of gratitude, bystander prevention, adulting 101, and consent and sexual harassment, to name a few.
By partnering with the parents to develop a “whole student” approach, Wasatch Academy and Mondragon’s goal is for students to feel connected to at least five faculty members within their first few weeks on campus. “If this occurs, students feel comfortable within the community and can progress,” states Mondragon. “Adolescents are looking for key people in their lives. They need role models and people with solid advice.”
For Mondragon, success is achieved “…when the students feel a sense of belonging in our community and are prepared for the world. I believe our community creates an environment where students can focus on developing themselves as young people while not paying attention to what the standard is for fitting in. The only standard within such a diverse population is simply to be a nice human.”
Mondragon holds a bachelor’s degree in family, consumer, and human development from Utah State University. She is also a Certified Family Life Educator and a Certified Nurse Assistant.