COVID Stress Prompts Reminders of Welcoming Classroom Environment
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
ST. PAUL, Minn. - School districts across Minnesota have either started the new academic year, or will soon. As they welcome students back despite the ongoing pandemic, social workers say educators and parents need to do what they can to keep the pressure away.
Some students are returning after lengthy periods of isolation during the COVID crisis. Andrea Giles, an essential worker from St. Paul and mother of two teenagers, said her kids returned only briefly to campus in late spring, amid the pandemic and following a teachers strike. She said they're eager to be with their classmates, but added that she's still worried about their transition.
"Being in the house all the time was really hard for them," she said, "and I can tell that it affected their mental health."
She said the situation has affected their learning. The Minnesota School Social Workers Association said it's important for parents to lean on mental-health professionals in schools if they feel a child is having a hard time adjusting. Teachers are encouraged to avoid heavy loads of school work right away, and to give students a space to talk about their experience.
Heather Alden, a social worker for St. Paul Public Schools, advised parents to engage with their kids as much as possible about the new year, as a way to put them at ease.
"Who are you excited to see, and how do we meet new friends? What are some expectations from teachers?" she said.
Newly released test scores show a drop in Minnesota students meeting grade-level standards in math, science and reading. While there's legitimate concern about lost learning during the pandemic, Alden said, it's important to help kids feel comfortable before ramping up the school work.
"If the kids have a relationship with their teacher," she said, "then they're more apt to take those academic risks, and be vulnerable with what they don't know."
She added that social workers, counselors and other support staff can quickly address a child's needs if a parent or teacher speaks up. That sometimes can be easier than trying to locate a specialist outside of school in a timely manner.
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