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Partner Blog Post: Mental Health Needs in a Pandemic: Resources for our Students
"In the past, schools would simply be expected to do more with fewer resources. But we now have a unique opportunity to build a system that is more responsive and in line with student and staff needs."
By L. Earl Franks, Executive Director of National Association for Elementary School Principals, and Richard M. Long, Executive Director of Learning First Alliance
Public schools are facing their biggest challenge: Educating students during a worldwide health pandemic. Public schools have always strived to be a safe haven for all students, a shelter for our most disadvantaged students, and a place for nurture, love and learning. As school this year unfolds—virtually and in-person—the only thing we know for sure is uncertainty.
Uncertainty breeds anxiety and depression. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, suicides, depression and anxiety, and opioid use were rising among adolescents and young people in this country. Now, thousands of children and adults have lost loved ones, seen caregivers lose jobs, suffered from abuse, or are struggling to cope with the myriad of uncertainties as school buildings attempt to reopen.
In the past, schools would simply be expected to do more with fewer resources. But we now have a unique opportunity to build a system that is more responsive and in line with student and staff needs.
We propose a three-part strategy.
All of this takes money, time, and human resources. Hiring new mental health workers and training teachers as mental health advocates will require more money to cover these costs. But we must also think of the long-term: We simply need more professionals to become counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. This will take time, money, for K-12 schools to be able to hire the professionals their students need.
What else needs to be changed? The public’s expectations for academic achievement needs to (took out: to be tempered with) include the understanding that to get the results we want, we have to invest in social and emotional learning supports.
Without these social and emotional learning supports, we know what will happen in school year 2020-21: Anxiety and stress will kill the ability to learn. We can’t afford to let uncertainty steal our most valuable resource--our children and their futures. We can help students to adapt, learn, and become resilient. This doesn’t happen automatically; it happens with the right interventions at the right times by the right people who are working collaboratively.