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Article by Curtisha Taylor, LCSW-S

March 2020 changed the lives of everyone in ways that none could have predicted. While we were coming off of the wave of celebrating a new decade, an editorial written in the promised 2020 to be a “wild ride”. The editorial went on to state that, “if 2019 was a roller coaster, 2020 might be more river rapids — a bumpy ride that can swing in circles with unpredictable deluges that leave you gasping for breath, maybe a little giddy and maybe a little scared.”¹ One may have read such a narrative with a comical undertone and brushed it off as another crazy theory. Who knew we were gearing up to endure one of the most difficult years to date in our lifetime? We single handedly watched COVID-19 death tolls rise, stock markets crash, financial insecurity comparable to The Great Depression, the introduction of home school for all, civil unrest, and an unprecedented rise in mental health needs.

As we gear up to return to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year, we have to understand how to manage students’ needs based on their experiences during the previous 16 months. A key word to keep at the forefront of mental health conversations is trauma. By understanding trauma and the impact it has on a person, we can assist with returning students to a level of functioning they may have had prior to the trauma. Students are returning to campus with an increased level of pandemic related stress, on top of grappling with how school closures and remote learning affected their academic performance. Issues related to lack of technology and reliable internet served as a constant reminder of the divides present in public education. Students are also facing the loss of personal connections only experienced on campus, which aided in their academic and individual success.

Below are three key steps to successfully reintegrate students onto their school campuses, ensuring they are healthy, happy, and well-adjusted as they are once again thrown into transition. This information can be utilized by parents, teachers, administrators, and students themselves to aid in the transition to our “new normal” as a society.

1. Show interest in the student and their personal goals.

  • Students who feel cared for, valued, and safe will be more likely to share their struggles with an adult, helping those around them to head off potential problems.
  • It will also be important to prioritize and bring awareness to the mental health of the students. Research shows² that when students receive mental health and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) strategies, they achieve higher success in academics, better classroom behavior, and improved with their on-task learning.

2. Be patient with yourself and others

  • By allowing for delays in the learning process or even mental health days, this may offer the needed time to adjust to a new schedule and responsibilities that come with it.

3. Foster Resilience in Students

  • By developing resilience among student, they have a better chance of tackling adversity and adapting to the changes happening around them. Author Carol Dweck coined two mindsets: “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset.” A “fixed mindset” student will do anything in their power to avoid failure out of fear that it reflects their ability and intelligence. On the other hand, a student with a “growth mindset” will view failure as a learning opportunity and with effort, can improve the failure. We must keep in mind that both mindsets can be nurtured with positive reinforcement.

The pandemic has created an opportunity to reprioritize the investment in students, especially those who are disconnected, vulnerable, or high risk. Theodore Roosevelt once stated that, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” May we all be equipped to care for our children as they return to consistency in their academic world.