Urgent Need for Summer Support to Motivate and Engage Learners for Fall.

by Katie Dorn on February 28, 2023

Another CDC warning this week amplified the urgent need to address student mental health; our students are in crisis. Any hopes that mental health would improve when the pandemic lifted are gone, as more and more students struggle with a broad range of mental and emotional stress that are impacting their ability to engage in academics and thrive.

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Superintendents, counselors and principals are searching for solutions that can address mental health needs and make next year less challenging for everyone. These thoughtful leaders know that next year must take a turn for the positive, and they hope to:

  • Increase student mental health and motivation
  • Improve attendance
  • Reduce problem behaviors and discipline referrals
  • Support the wellbeing of students, teachers and staff

Schools have an opportunity now to address all of these challenges in a lasting way. An evidence-based  program can do this — making it a critical learning focus for all students, particularly those who had the fewest academic opportunities before the pandemic. 

Offering the program this summer is the perfect way to invest ESSER II and III funds and lay the groundwork for a real fresh start when students head back to school in the fall.

Motivating Learners Is a Growing Need — And Summer Is the Perfect Time to Address It.

The need to support student mental health isn’t new. In fact, the National Institute for Mental Health found that a third of U.S. students struggled with attention issues, trauma, anxiety and depression that interfered with learning before the pandemic even began. But all the isolation, uncertainty and disruption of the pandemic only made things harder.

Over the past many months, virtually every conversation I have with school leaders is focused on the whole child. And in these discussions, I've heard a deep concern that the escalating need for social and emotional support goes well beyond what they are prepared to handle - a time when their resources are unusually low.

The good news? Summer is coming, offering the perfect opportunity to reach students when they are more relaxed with fewer stressful demands. And with a data-driven turnkey program, any school, large or small, can increase services to students without the need to hire more people or ask exhausted educator teams to do more. 

Summer SEL Programs Motivating Learners

Why Summer is a Great Time to Build Student Resilience 

The professionals who work in schools witness the urgent need for skills that help students take charge of their "selves": self-confidence, self-direction, self-regulation and self-empathy.  This is critical and urgent work in order for our students to succeed.

And anyone who has worked in schools knows all too well that students who are overwhelmed by things in their life will struggle as learners. Child or adult, we have a hard time learning or doing great work when our lives feel out of control — family, finances, health, social circle, you name it. 

At their core, effective social-emotional learning programs equip students with a specific set of skills that help them navigate whatever life brings.  To do this in a way that drives outcomes, students must go from learning skills to applying skills in problem solving, communication, conflict resolution and positive mindset. This approach builds resilience for students with increased confidence and motivation. 

EmpowerU helped me control my stress and motivated me to do productive things this summer. I think more positively about myself now and feel more sure of myself, too.

—Middle School Student, Summer 2022

Teaching students skills in a supported way that help them navigate challenges with resilience is foundational to student learning outcomes. Decades of scientific research has shown that students who receive this support have higher grades, fewer absences, fewer arrests and disciplinary issues, and graduate and attend college at higher rates.

Teaching Educators Resilience and Wellbeing

These days, it is really hard to ignore the fact that teachers, administrators and school staff are navigating a professional crisis. As resignations pile up, school leaders are looking for any way to keep their teams together. 

There’s no question that educators have been overwhelmed by uncertainty, anxiety and depression — not to mention their students’ needs and difficult behavior. And just as students with high stress will struggle to learn, exhausted educators will be unable to reach their full potential as a teacher.

Outcomes-based wellbeing support for adults can help educators improve healthy coping skills for greater confidence and resilience. Schools that encourage educators to complete a professional development course focused on their own wellbeing also can build a common language to discuss social-emotional health. 

This course was so helpful in teaching me strategies to manage my stress and prioritize what I need to reach my goals. I can allow my stress to take over sometimes, so learning some new strategies to help me pause, assess, and manage my stress has been great.”

— Educator Course Participant

As more educators receive data-driven support, they will also gain the mindset and skill set needed to support all students with more positive behaviors.

Use your ESSER III Funds for Summer Student Support Programs

There has never been a better time to invest in data-driven, outcomes-based whole-child programs — and taking that step has never been easier to afford. With ESSER  II and III, the federal government earmarked billions of dollars to help states and districts overcome setbacks created by the pandemic. 

This summer, districts can use ESSER II and III funding to add turnkey, holistic student support solutions for students and educators — without burdening existing staff or hiring more people. This is the ideal opportunity to start the 2023-24 school year with students who are ready to learn and educators who are at their best. 


Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT is co-founder of EmpowerU and an experienced licensed school counselor and therapist. A mother of seven grown children and a successful entrepreneur and author, Katie is a strategic thinker with an ability to connect and build functional and productive teams. Her passion for finding effective ways to help students and families with mental health obstacles has fueled her work for EmpowerU since 2015.


EmpowerU’s highly personalized, data-driven Tier 1 and Tier 2 solutions equip students to be resilient, self-directed learners and reach their goals — without additional hires or a heavy lift from schools. The program provides each student with interactive lessons and personalized coaching, pairing technology with brain research in a unique way that supports students, empowers their growth and reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. Multi-year data makes it clear: nobody understands Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and approaches student supports the way EmpowerU does.

Topics: student resilience