This school year has been particularly challenging for students, families, and schools as schools have reopened in a more permanent manner this school year following gaps in in-person learning over the past two school years due to COVID-19.
A comprehensive analysis conducted by CREP Reinventing Public Education found that:
A significant portion of young people, likely 30 to 40 percent, have experienced negative impacts on their mental or social-emotional health during the pandemic.
Students who learned remotely for long periods of time and historically marginalized students were more likely to experience these negative effects.
Rates of anxiety and attempted suicides, already on the rise pre-pandemic, appear to have increased among all students, especially among girls.
While some students fared well initially, or even fared better when learning remotely than they did in-person before the pandemic, these positive effects did not last long. Negative effects for students increased over time.
The review also uncovered an urgent need for more effective social-emotional learning opportunities and innovative approaches to expand student support.
In a national survey in June 2020, 14 percent reported “worsening behavioral health” for their children. And a survey of more than 32,000 caregivers in Chicago found more frequent reports of negative concerns and behaviors, such as incidents of self-harm, suicidal ideation, expressions of loneliness, and less frequent reports of positive behaviors or expressions, such as making plans for the future and having positive peer relationships.
Among the priorities, in addition to addressing gaps in learning, are ensuring that students feel that their physical needs are supported in addition to their equally important mental health needs. Moreover, school staff should also have their physical and mental health needs addressed as well.
The National Association of School Psychologists, along with the American School Counselor Association, recently released a guidance document on School Reentry Considerations with a focus on mental health needs. Among the recommendations included are the following:
School-wide universal social and emotional screenings
Conducting triage to determine who needs crisis intervention support through a review of student and staff data. Such data might include those experiencing death or a loss of someone close to them, those with significant disruption of lifestyle such as food, financial, or housing insecurity, those with a history of trauma or chronic stress or other preexisting mental health problems, those with exposure to abuse or neglect, and communities with a history of educational disruption.
Students should be taught skills in validation by acknowledging that everyone has had a different experience from COVID-19, and not everyone in each school will be in the same place in recovery. Some might be disappointed, some had fun, some are grieving, some are exhausted from added responsibilities at home, some are scared, etc.
It is important that students be allowed to process their experiences. Classroom meetings could be facilitated in collaboration with school-employed mental health professionals to share and process the experience of returning to schools. This may occur on a regular basis. As students share they will come to learn that they are not alone in dealing with the challenges of coming back to school. Such a setting could provide some guidance in methods of addressing some of the challenges students face.
Psychoeducational evidence-based classroom lessons can be used to address mindset and behavior standards such as learning strategies, self-management and social skills.
Regular communication with families is essential to share policies, protocols, and procedures for student involvement and engagement. Connectedness to school often predicts students’ success in learning and well-being.
Because COVID-19 disrupted and still influences the type of socialization to which students were accustomed, schools and families can help promote an intentional focus on social and emotional skill building, mental and behavioral health, personal safety, and self-regulation which may have regressed due to a lack of social interactions.
Finally, schools should recognize the potential for higher rates of traumatic experiences for students and their families and be prepared to help assist them with services. Such events may include:
Parental substance use and abuse
Exposure to domestic violence
Homelessness (and general worsening of poverty and economic gaps)
Mental health issues or exacerbation of underlying issues
Family separation (some were away and couldn’t return, or not seeing loved ones)
Grief/loss from the death of a loved one that could not be processed (either personal or affecting the entire school community)
Racial violence and trauma.
School Reentry Considerations: Supporting Student Social and Emotional Leaning and Mental and Behavioral Health
How Has The Pandemic Affected Students Social-Emotional Well-Being? A Review of the Evidence to Date
ASCA Student Standards: Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success
Supporting Children’s Mental Health: Tips for Parents and Educators
A Resource for Parents on Returning to In-Person Learning
Well-being of Parents and Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A National Survey