CECILIA, Kentucky (AP) — For fourth grader Leah Rainey, a day at school begins with what teachers call an “emotional check-in.”
“It’s nice to meet you. How are you feeling?” Ask her to click the emoji that matches her state of mind: happy. sad. Worried. anger. Frustration. calm down. stupid. I’m tired.
Depending on the answer, 9-year-old Leah gets advice on managing her mood from her cartoon avatar, plus a few more questions. Did you have breakfast? Are you hurt or sick? Are you okay at home? Is there someone unkind to her at school?Today Leah chooses to be silly, but she says she suffered grief while learning online.
At Lakewood Elementary, all 420 students will start the day the same way this year. A rural Kentucky school is one of thousands of schools nationwide using the technology to screen students for their state of mind and alert teachers to those in need.
In some ways, this new school year will restore some of the pre-pandemic normalcy. But many of the long-term effects of coronavirus remain a troubling reality for schools. Among them are the negative effects of isolation and distance learning on children’s emotional well-being.
With student mental health reaching critical levels last year, the pressure on schools to find solutions has never been greater. Districts across the country are using federal pandemic funds to hire more mental health professionals, deploy new coping tools, and expand curricula that prioritize emotional health.
Still, some parents believe schools shouldn’t be involved in mental health at all. So-called social-emotional learning (SEL) has become a recent political hotspot, with conservatives arguing that schools are using it to promote progressive ideas about race, gender, and sexuality, or that they are happily It states that the focus attracts the attention of scholars.
But at schools like Lakewood, educators say helping students deal with emotions and stress benefits them in the classroom and throughout their lives.
“We are finally starting to realize that schools are not just teaching children to read, write and do math,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the National Association of Superintendents of Schools. He said more and more schools are embracing the idea that a confused or troubled mind can’t focus on schoolwork, just as it’s based on the idea that a child can’t learn.
Experts say the pandemic has exacerbated mental health vulnerabilities among American youth, who have experienced increases in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation for years.Published by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention A recent report found that 44% of high school students said they experienced “constant sadness and hopelessness” during the pandemic.
If there is any silver lining, the pandemic has helped raise awareness of the crisis and destigmatize talking about mental health. It also drew attention to shortcomings in the school’s response. President Joe Biden’s administration recently announced over $500 million to expand mental health services in the nation’s schools.
Still, many schools are skeptical, and the school’s response is good enough and appropriate.
Asla Nomani, a mother in Fairfax County, Virginia, said schools are using the mental health crisis as a “Trojan horse” to introduce liberal ideas about sexual and racial identity. She also worries that schools lack the expertise to deal with mental illness in students.
“Social and emotional well-being are an excuse to intervene in children’s lives in the most intimate ways that are dangerous and irresponsible,” Nomani said. “
Despite unprecedented funding, schools have struggled to recruit counselors, and this reflects a shortage in other industries in America.
Goshen Middle School in northwest Indiana is struggling to fill the vacancies of counselors who retired last year because student anxiety and other behavioral problems were “unplanned,” said two remaining students at the school. Jean Desmarais Morse, one of the counselors, said: , each with a caseload of his 500 students.
The American Association of School Counselors recommends a ratio of 250 students to one school counselor, but few states come close.
An Associated Press analysis of national data found that only two states, New Hampshire and Vermont, met the goal for the 2020-21 school year. Some states face alarmingly high rates. In Arizona, there is an average of 716 students per counselor. In Michigan he is 1 to 638. In Minnesota it is 1 to 592.
And while Hammond School City in Indiana has won grants to hire clinical therapists in all 17 schools, it has been unable to fill most of the new jobs, said superintendent Scott Miller. said. And even with more funding, school salaries can’t match the practice of individual counseling.
Another challenge for schools is identifying children in distress before they have an emotional crisis. With 277 schools and nearly 200,000 students in the Houston Independent School District, one of the nation’s largest, students are asked to show their feelings every morning by pointing up. One finger means that the child is deeply hurt. 5 means you feel good.
Shawn Ricks, District Senior Manager of Crisis Intervention, said:
The grant helped Houston build relaxation rooms called “Thinkeries” in 10 schools last year. Ricks said he saw a 62% drop in calls to emergency calls on campus last year, according to data from one Thinkeries district. The district is constructing more buildings this year.
But the room itself is no panacea. For calm rooms to work, schools need to make students aware that they are angry or frustrated. That way, the space can be used to decompress before emotions explode, says Kevin Dahilf, executive director of Counseling In School, a nonprofit that helps schools strengthen mental health services. Shell said.
During the last days of summer vacation, Well Space at University High School in Irvine, California, received the finishing touches from an artist who painted a giant moon mural on top of a mountain. When school starts this week, the room will be staffed full-time with a counselor or mental health professional.
The goal is to normalize the idea of asking for help and give students a place to reset. “If they can refocus and refocus, they’ll be ready to return to the classroom after a short break to learn more,” said Tammy Blakely, the district’s director of student support services. You can do it,” he said.
Gecker reported from San Francisco. Associated Press reporter Heather Hollingsworth at Mission, Kansas. Early Rogers of Indianapolis. Brooke Schulz of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Kavish Harjai from Los Angeles also contributed.
Rodgers, Schultz, and Harjai are members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover hidden issues.
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