With the COVID-19 pandemic surging again and in some cases moving students to full-time remote learning, students of all ages are feeling a variety of emotions as they cope with how the virus has impacted education.
“When I talk to parents and they’re of course calling very emotionally charged — their child is not coping well and they’re distraught about what’s going on and what’s being taken away from their child’s normal routine,” said Joanne Etter, co-owner of Apple Valley Behavioral Health in Southington.
Each student grapples differently with the impact of the virus on their schooling. Etter said that parents and caregivers need to take into account “where they are at in their developmental stage and maturation level.”
“Caregivers, parents, need to, of course, validate their feelings without judgment or correction,” Etter said. “... How you talk to a six-year-old versus a 10-year-old versus a 16-year-old is going to be very different.
“For teenagers...They’re grieving the loss of not hanging out with friends, not having the clubs, the sports, the parties, the things that they can’t do right now,” she added.
College students have also been impacted and may be more anxious about the future.
“For the college population, there has been a lot of unknowns and as a result, a lot of anxiety,” said Ariela Reder, director of counseling services at Quinnipiac University. “They had their school interrupted in the beginning of the pandemic, not knowing if they will be returning to campus or not and having to transition to having to take their classes online.”
Jennifer D’Andrea, director of counseling and psychological services at Wesleyan University, said the college is offering tips and services.
“We try to find and support students in finding safe ways that they can connect with people and we can do that both within the context of therapy, but we also try to offer lots of different kinds of tips,” D’Andrea said. “... We’ve offered YouTube videos and webinars, and we are using social media pages. We’re really trying to stretch ourselves in terms of how we can connect with students and offer them support as they figure out how to navigate this really difficult time.”
Ree Le Blanc Gunter, director of counseling services at Western Connecticut State University, feels not enough students at the university are utilizing mental health services, such as a mindfulness group called Creating Calm and a bi-weekly drop in group called Coping Through COVID.
“We really don’t know what people are doing with their time,” Gunter said. “... It could be a number of things and just trying to manage the technology of online learning … At this point because it is all so new ... If you’re not on campus, it may not even enter your mind that these services are available.”
Sheehan High School in Wallingford has implemented ways to support students, including a daily advisory class.
“This is a time for students to make a good connection with an adult and with their peers in their advisory to talk informally about what is on their minds and ask for support that they may need,” Principal Enzo Zocco said. “Teachers support their advisory students and often point them to the right resource or person for any further support.”
Counselors and other support staff are available online and in person, Zocco added.
The Wallingford Public School district is conducting a mental health screening of all students by the end of the calendar year. At the elementary level, it will be administered by a professional and for middle and high school students, the students will perform a screening on themselves.
“It’s going to enable us to better reach out to and provide interventions for students that may be struggling,” said Anthony Loomis, Wallingford district wellness curriculum coordinator. “It’s going to give us a clue as far as the mental health of our students.”
Evelyn Robles-Rivas, supervisor of languages and community partnerships for Meriden Public Schools, said the district is working to help all students, especially those who are in need of extra support.
“Our Bilingual department works closely with all schools to reach out to families of students that are not fully engaged,” Robles-Rivas said. “In-person teachers as well as distance learning teachers and support staff offer parents tools and strategies to help their children, including strategies to support their emotional well-being.”
Teachers and professors can play a huge role in supporting students at this time said Sandra Chafouleas, distinguished professor in the Neag School of Education at UConn. Just checking in can be very impactful.
“Use a few minutes at the beginning of each class to build social connections, talk about what’s going on, share thoughts and feelings,” Chafouleas said. “Make sure to tell students that you understand things can be tough right now and you care about their success in your class … Follow-up with those students who seem disconnected and send some extra messages, announcements, emails, to all that reaffirm connection.”
For college students who are learning remotely, families need to remember that “school is their full-time job,” Reder said.
“Being supportive and giving them the space and the time to attend the classes and do the work that they need to do,” Reder said. “... Having the opportunity to talk about expectations and what home life could and should be like. That can take away some of the stressors.”