The mental health wellness of students and staff is a high priority as schools look toward reopening. The experiences of all students during the COVID-19 shutdown are unknown and will present differently. It should not be assumed that students who in the past have not presented with observable anxieties or at-risk behaviors will follow a similar trajectory during their pandemic and civil unrest experiences. Many experiences were tragic and trauma producing and most students and staff experienced anxiety and high levels of uncertainty. Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis is now inextricably entwined with civil unrest, which will require building administrators and program leaders to understand and work with the community on addressing the complexities of racial inequities. Schools will need to be “trauma informed and trauma skilled” and embed social-emotional learning throughout the practiced curriculum (AASA School Superintendents Association COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, June 2020). To be successful in this domain, schools will need to reestablish, strengthen, and maintain trust with students, staff, families and the surrounding community. Reopening plans must have student health, safety, and mental wellness as their highest priority.
The district developed a Social/Emotional Learning Advisory Committee that involved shared decision-making and composed of parents, school building and district leaders, community-based service providers, teachers, certified school counselors, school psychologists and school social workers.
The following considerations for the social/emotional and mental health wellness for reopening are a result of the work completed by the Social Emotional Learning Advisory Subcommittee:
- The district to make available resources and referrals to address mental health, behavioral, and emotional needs of students, faculty, and staff when school reopens for in-person instruction and remote instruction. Committee recommendations to support this effort include:
- Providing teachers time to develop relationships with students and emphasize social emotional learning as students transition.
- Reviewing and revising, as needed, the K-12 comprehensive counseling plan to plan, develop, and implement social emotional learning lessons.
- Reviewing and revising the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) to identify students at-risk and develop a collaborative plan to support students in live and remote settings. Each building’s pre-referral intervention team or school-based support team will work collaboratively with staff to provide whole class and individualized interventions.
- Providing professional learning for teachers and the school community prior to schools reopening regarding supporting students’ social emotional well being upon reentry. Additional professional development will be provided throughout the year to address how to incorporate Social Emotional Learning. Topics will include, but not be limited to:
- Resilience and coping skills
- Building a supportive school climate and culture
- Anti-bias and anti-racism education
- Continued expansion of prior professional development on creating trauma-sensitive classrooms; identify how trauma and mental health needs present in students
- Embedding social emotional learning practices into the curriculum
- Providing resources and professional development to faculty and staff to facilitate self-care and mental wellness.
- Updating the district website with a list of community supports and information to access district mental health staff.
- Providing families with information on how to prepare their children for a return to live or remote instruction.
The district developed a webpage during school closure for a place to find a collection of resources to help support the social and emotional well-being of students and families.