KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – With the start of a new academic year, schools in East Tennessee are starting “social-emotional learning” exercises for students.

Social-emotional learning is now a morning focus at Northwest Middle School, where a total of 900 students take part for 15 to 20 minutes to reset, focus and build a sense of community and empathy through various exercises led by educators.

“So it’s a really cool chance to just kind of teach the entire student,” said Northwest Middle School teacher, Riley Scheyder. “Whether that be helping them through things they’re going through at home or trying to integrate problem solving… real-world problem solving into everything that we do through a lot of project-based stuff… I really believe the whole goal of social-emotional learning is to adapt to the needs of every student.”

Now in its second year, 8th grade student Cyanne Ford was one of the first to take part.

“I was still shy, I was very scared to actually show who I am as a person because I felt like I was going to be judged or discriminated,” said Ford.

“You never know what a student is walking into school with,” says Scheyder. “Sometimes, just the anxieties and the day-to-day stuff that our students face, they have to be taught those skills.”

Skills that 8th grade student Jamiyah Gilmore is also learning by setting specific goals that are higher than before.

“My teacher Miss Smith – she kind of like, got on my level like, how I was and then helped me be like, my inner-self; happy and be happy so my most and share my emotions,” Gilmore said. “My attitude has changed because I used to be a little sassy person so when I got in the Academy they helped me straighten up and not be so sassy.”

In the end, reducing chronic absenteeism, bullying and out of school suspension… in turn, raising grades.

“In sixth grade, (my grades) weren’t that good they were all Fs and I would say one D, and when I went to seventh grade I had an A, a B, and a C,” said Ford.

“I think as a school we try to create an environment, whereas our students come in, they have a chance to process in a community — community they might not have anywhere else — things that are going on in their lives, but also just find community in something,” said Scheyder.

Six elementary schools feed into Northwest Middle School, which then feeds into six different high schools – creating an ever-changing environment to adjust to.

Principal Bill Baldwin says that alone provides all the more reason for social-emotional learning.