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Student welfare issues schools need to watch out for this year

Student mental health and well-being received a tremendous amount of attention during the 2021-2022 school year. This school year will likely bring a similar level of attention to these issues.

But there are big differences in this school year that have many educators hoping the 2022-23 school year won’t be as dark and difficult as the previous one. the last. For one thing, most students have returned to school full-time in person for an entire year and are starting to get used to routines again.

Additionally, educators now have a better idea of ​​what to expect this school year and how to manage students’ social and emotional needs.

“The blinders are off,” said Lydia McNeiley, college and careers coordinator for the school district of Hammond, Ind. “We know that students are traumatized. We know we have to fix it. And I think we start the school year knowing that it’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be better,” than the school year before.

Here are some big issues schools are facing when it comes to student well-being this fall:

Educator mental health and student mental health are intrinsically linked

Headlines abound with stories of low educator moraleteachers leaving the profession, significant staff shortages. Teacher emotional fatigue naturally impacts students, experts and educators say.

“We spend so many hours a day with these kids that they feel our emotions,” said Tara Kierstead, school counselor at Hall-Dale Middle & High School in Farmingdale, Maine. “So the burnout and the feeling that the world is against us, it all takes a really heavy toll on the kids.”

District leaders who have intensified their focus on students’ social and emotional needs in recent years often say they regret not including teachers’ social and emotional needs in the mix earlier, said Justina Schlund, principal. principal of content and field learning for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, a nonprofit organization.

While no district has found the perfect solution, some schools and district leaders have found it helpful to more deliberately solicit feedback from teachers about the causes of their frustration and fatigue, and act on their suggestions. Schlund said.

The decline in social-emotional learning complicates the work of educators

K-12 schools have long been battlegrounds in the culture wars, but the environment has become even hotter lately as legislatures and school boards debate the teaching of American history, policies for LGBTQ studentsand other politically controversial topics that educators deal with daily.

Now, something as mundane as a presentation for the American School Counselor Association can turn into a flashpoint on social media, as Kierstead discovered when she shared her school’s advice for help students navigate gender identity. Her presentation was well-received, but somehow right-wing social media accounts seized on her and attacked her.

Although most pushbacks don’t come from local sources, it’s still difficult to deal with, Kierstead said. And it has made some teachers wary of social-emotional learning, which aims to help children develop skills such as cooperation, resilience and empathy.

“We want all children to feel supported and safe. And social-emotional learning is a big part of that,” she said. The fact that the term has been misinterpreted as “something that is simply not [what it is] really put a lot of stress on the school counselors, in particular,” she added.

She is particularly saddened by social media campaigns urging parents to ban school counselors from working with their children. “It’s very sad that a lot of people’s new narrative is that we’re bad people and we shouldn’t be with your kids,” she said.

Family and community engagement matters more than ever

A bright spot of virtual learning related to the pandemic: parents have become more connected than ever to their schools. Living rooms have become classrooms and teachers a constant virtual presence at home. Additionally, many schools have begun offering online parent outreach events, making it easier for parents with less flexible schedules or unreliable transportation to attend.

But when in-person classes resumed, some of the goodwill between schools and families slipped, as parents grappled with changing COVID protocols. They often blamed teachers for the confusion they felt or for policies they disagreed with, including those that banned them from entering their child’s classroom to avoid spreading the virus.

“There’s a level of distrust that has formed,” McNeily said. “I think closing that gap, again, [is going to be about] have conversations with families. And let them know it’s not me against you. It is we who work together for the good of your student.

Additionally, Schlund worries that some parents’ perspectives have been drowned out, amid headline-grabbing debates on issues such as critical race theory.. “I think some voices are coming through the big megaphone” of the national media, she said. “I think there are a lot of voices that are not being heard.”

Children have mental health needs that stem from the pandemic, and some that don’t

Most students attended school in person for most of last school year. But many were still trying to figure out how to be around other kids their own age, follow school rules and cope with less autonomy over their schedule than they might have at home.

This school year, they’re more likely to show up ready to settle into a routine, said Ashley Wright, school counselor at Gordon-Reed Elementary School near Houston. “I think there is a thirst for structure. They want it and they just haven’t had it firmly, consistently.

Over the past turbulent years, children in her community have faced many changes, Wright said.

“There’s been a lot of divorces, a lot of separations, a lot of job losses,” Wright said. This has contributed to a prevailing sense of loss. Children as young as kindergarten have had suicidal thoughts, she said.

Additionally, the kinds of concerns that typically dominated schools’ mental health awareness before March 2020 are still big issues, even as schools have focused on helping children recover from the pandemic.

“They got used to being in school and doing school,” Kierstead said. “But that’s not to say that…things like cyberbullying, depression, and anxiety suddenly took a vacation, because they didn’t.”

On the bright side, according to Schlund, schools continue to put expanding social-emotional learning and improving school climate at the top of their to-do lists. In fact, district leaders named “whole child” development and improving school culture as the most pressing priorities in a survey conducted this summer by Tyton Partners..

Students crave connectivity and have asked their teachers and principals for more time during the school day to develop friendships and deepen relationships, Schlund said.

For educators, that means “we really need to get back to basics,” Kierstead added. “To build relationships and keep tabs on kids who we think are struggling and to make sure all teachers have connections with the kids.”

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