WESTMINSTER, Colo. — After adapting to remote learning for much of the pandemic, this school year many teens have had to relearn how to be normal.
For many that includes how to make friends in person. It’s something Mountain Range High School senior Ameera Sierra has struggled with.
“After a lot of isolation, I became truly an introvert, and I just was unable to communicate with other people,” she said.
Students at Mountain Range and seven other Denver metro area schools are getting some help from a Colorado-built app called “Nod.” Initially designed for college students, creators realized high school students transitioning from remote learning could benefit from it.
Nod gives students specific tasks, like striking up a conversation with someone they don’t know well. Denver psychologist Nathaan Demers, who helped develop Nod, said the app can help students set small goals.
“We’re giving students the opportunity to engage in mini missions where they get out into the real world and actually try those skills,” he said.
They’re skills that don’t come always come naturally, especially for students already prone to depression and anxiety.
“Students who are either depressed or lonely tend to be overly self-critical and in their own heads, so the app is all about practicing skills like active listening and self-disclosure,” Demers said.
Marcus Bratton with the Colorado Education Initiative says it’s important to acknowledge that teens spend a lot of time on their digital devices. CEI is part of a pilot program that’s looking to use technology to improve social and emotional health.
“We want to enter into the conversation [with technology], but then, really, what's cool about the app is you are not in the app for a long time,” Bratton said.
Mountain Range senior Jayden Moscato said the app allows her to set goals and then reminds her of opportunities to socialize.
"l'll find myself in situations and notice opportunities to make connections that I wouldn’t have noticed before without the app,” she said.
Ameera said she feels more confident after using the Nod app rather than scrolling through social media feeds.
“It just elevates my morning because instead of starting off this destructive cycle, I can set my mood and my tone for the day through happy meditations or just goals that I want to meet,” she said.
The Colorado Education Initiative is collecting feedback on the Nod app and hopes to make it more widely available to teenagers soon.