School counselors on how to help students recover from pandemic stress

US school counselors described a generation of students who missed crucial periods of social and emotional development during the pandemic, in an article we published on Sunday.

In a New York Times survey of 362 members of the American School Counselor Association, they said they were concerned about basic skills such as children’s ability to learn and make friends, and the alarming increase in anxiety, suicidal thoughts and vandalism. But they are also reassured by the progress children have made since schools reopened and their willingness to ask for help.

“I don’t think Covid is going to destroy this generation,” said Dr. Jennifer Havens, chair of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “I think children are resilient. But it really increased the stressors in the kids. We have to figure out how to help them. »

Here are eight things advisers suggested:

Extracurricular activities provide a sense of normalcy, counselors said, and a way to detach from computers and practice collaboration and conflict resolution. In some communities, they have been restricted even as schools are open.

“We need to increase social play time for our young students, not increase the number of academics. Students need to work on self-regulation and social skills to catch up, and we see this impacting academic growth. Sarah Flier, Willow River Elementary School, Hudson, Wisconsin.

“College students need and want extracurricular activities that don’t include the computer more than ever. Popular things at my school are sports, Lego leagues, Destination Imagination (a science competition), drama, choir and orchestra. Family game nights, doing puzzles together, doing family community activities, or even sitting down to dinner without technology can help students learn the social-emotional skills they need to succeed. Laura Donica, Indian River School, Canaan, NH

In the survey, three-quarters of counselors said they needed more staff in schools to meet children’s social and emotional needs. This month, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called student mental health “America’s silent epidemic” and called for more school counselors, social workers, psychologists and of nurses.

“We need help. We need more counselors hired. Ratios need to be mandatory and not just recommendations. It’s not sustainable at this level. Cassie Cerny, Weston Elementary, Weston, Wis.

“We invest our money in what we prioritize. I think the ratios of school counselors and social workers clearly illustrate the level of priority. Melissa Ostrowski, Penn Manor School District, Millersville, Pennsylvania.

Many counselors mentioned creating spaces where students could take a break when they were overwhelmed. They called them wellness rooms or reset zones, which have couches, toys, stress balls, snacks, and calming activities.

“I have created and used soothing bottles and stress balls for all grade levels to help students stay focused and calm even when I couldn’t help them. The teachers also came to ask for them for their private lessons. Therese Farmer, Wisdom Consulting Educational Services, Capitol Heights, Md.

Social-emotional learning — things like managing emotions, achieving goals, and practicing empathy — has become an integral part of school. In the survey, eight out of 10 counselors said they teach it to all students. Counselors said it worked best when teachers incorporated it throughout the day. In some places he has been targeted by conservative politicians and activists who have said he is a distraction for academics and teaches “left-wing ideology”.

“Providing students with adequate mental health services should be just as important as any other aspect of the school. Students struggling with anxiety, depression or bereavement are unable to learn and develop to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, in our state, school counselors have sometimes been reviled. Laurenne Hamlin, Concord Middle School, Elkhart, Ind.

Many counselors said they have started teaching schoolwide classes on issues that have become more serious during the pandemic, such as managing anxiety or improving executive functioning. Some suggested sessions that encouraged children to use art or storytelling to process their experiences of the pandemic.

The students responded very positively about opportunities to use art to express and process their feelings of the past two years and their current feelings of anxiety and worry. I relied on the work of local nonprofit OKYou.org for the program and training. Jess Firestone, Buckman Elementary School, Portland, Oregon.

“We need more opportunities for children to talk about the pandemic and its impact on them. Not every student had a horrible experience, and that shouldn’t be minimized either. All students must be given the opportunity to unload on their pandemic experiences. Helen Everitt, Davis Drive Middle School, Cary, North Carolina

Nearly half of counselors surveyed said students were using the internet inappropriately for school more than before, after having increased access during remote school. These included cyberbullying, buying vape pens on social media, researching sexual topics, playing video games during class, and TikTok challenges like vandalism or stealing school property. They suggested further limiting cell phone and internet use, and teaching children to put what they see on social media into context.

“I am concerned about their inability to stay off their phones and social media. I recommend introductory social media courses. Brian Chaapel, Francis Scott Key High School, Union Bridge, Maryland.

Family members and teachers can be a buffer for struggling children, but it’s harder when they’re struggling too, counselors said. They suggested classes, books and videos on how to support children, and more help connecting families to community resources for mental health as well as necessities like housing and food.

“I truly believe that we need to engage our families and our community in the conversation about social and emotional needs. I know families in my small community are hurt and unaware of their own struggles, let alone how family issues affect students and limit adults’ ability to buffer. Sarah Swanson, Tukurngailnguq School, Stebbins, Alaska

“More mental health support for teachers – teachers need to be grounded and able to provide a safe classroom environment for children.” Ann Reavey, Sabot at Stony Point, Richmond, Virginia.

Counselors do preventative work and respond to short-term needs. For more serious problems, they refer students to mental health resources outside of school. But often parents end up on waiting lists or cannot afford the treatment.

“More mental health hospitals, community resources and therapists are needed. A student referred for anxiety may have to be put on a waiting list. Worse still, if a student is in crisis and needs a mental health assessment, the number of beds available in the community is extremely limited. Shannon Donnellon, Clarkston Junior High School, Clarkston, Michigan.

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