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  • Greg Smith

­­How Schools Can Address the Mental Health Needs of Students in the COVID Era

Students around the country are facing unprecedented stressors. The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted their normal lives in dramatic ways, and it may be years before we can fully appreciate the situation’s long-term impacts.

In the short term, children in grades K through 12 are dealing with social and emotional isolation from their peers, fears surrounding the virus, and sometimes the loss of beloved family members. Distance learning kids have to cope with technology issues, time management challenges, and an unfamiliar learning environment. Students attending face-to-face programs arguably have things worse, with masks, social distancing, and sometimes plexiglass dividers to contend with.

The results of these pressures are unmistakable. A Gallup poll from May found that 30% of parents noted harm to their children’s emotions and mental health. According to the CDC, mental health-related visits to emergency rooms among children are up markedly from 2019.

Schools and educators, along with parents, must do everything in their power to help kids regain a sense of normalcy while mitigating the worst of the challenges they face.

Work to Identify Kids That Are Most at Risk

The extent to which kids are affected by the pandemic can vary dramatically. Julio Avael recommends schools put measures in place to help teachers identify students most at risk for adverse reactions.

Some school districts are placing school counselors on distance learning sessions to gauge student participation and look for warning signs. This can be a critical addition to online learning programs, as it grants trained mental health professionals access to students in real-time.

Work With Outside Agencies to Provide Needed Support

In addition to the issues already discussed, the pandemic is exacerbating existing social and class divides. Children from low-income households have classically depended on school for external support, daytime childcare, and sometimes supplemental meals.

Distance learning also means that students with problematic home lives can’t escape bad situations. To support students with special needs, school systems should collaborate with other agencies and relief organizations to ensure resources are available and accessible.

Focus on Socialization in School and at Home

Educators, whether in person or online, should emphasize emotional and social learning. It’s critical for kids to feel they’re part of a caring community, particularly if they’re stuck at home.

Parents need support as well. In many cases, they’re balancing remote work situations with their children’s educational and social needs. Educators can offer support and strategies to help parents navigate these issues successfully.

Create a Safe Space for Discussion

Not all students will volunteer information about the challenges they’re facing, and educators can’t assume they have the support they need at home. Therefore teachers and administrators should let kids know that they can talk about their problems without judgment or repercussions. Offer one-on-one time, whether distanced in person or remotely, where students can discuss fears, questions, and issues they’re facing.

Schools have always played a role in maintaining the emotional and mental health of the students in their charge, and now this is more important than ever. With a disciplined, multi-agency strategy, schools can affect positive changes in their student’s lives.

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