Return to School: What Can We Expect?
In these times of uncertainty, one thing is certain… we need to support our students and their mental health needs, especially once school is back in session.
The reaction of our students is sure to be varied. Some students will return to school as if nothing has happened; others may struggle with mental health needs. Many may experience increased adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) while at home for prolonged periods of time or may experience toxic stress or trauma as a result of COVID-19. As school psychologists, we are on the front line of providing mental health support to those who are most significantly impacted.
According to Brock and colleagues (2016), the traumatizing potential of a crisis event depends largely on the interaction of variables, risk factors, and the perception of the threat. Individual risk factors, previous mental health problems, cultural factors, and protective factors can either positively or negatively impact a student’s response. As school psychologists, we need to be prepared for the wide range of reactions and implications that can influence emotions, behavior, and cognitive functioning.
School psychologists must work with administrators and staff on the potential impacts of quarantine and trauma. Some students will experience academic regression, social challenges, or emotional and behavioral concerns. It is extremely important to prepare for such issues prior to returning to school. Administration should activate their school’s crisis team to discuss the appropriate course of action. There are plenty of resources, several which are referenced below. Here are some general tips to support our students, staff, and ourselves as we prepare to return to school.
Terri Sisson, EdS
Educational Assessment Advisor–National Accounts
June 17, 2020
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- Read up on the best ways to support student’s mental health needs when returning to school.
- Be confident! You are among the most knowledgeable staff in in the school for providing mental health services. Review what you learned in graduate school or brush up on your counseling and consulting skills. Most students want someone to listen and be compassionate. You’ve got this!
- Invite yourself to the table. When your district is making plans to return to school, invite yourself to help in the planning. You have unique skills and ideas that will help address student’s mental health needs.
- It is important that teachers feel equipped to deal with students and their varied responses to school reintegration. You can be an important person in helping them understand the impact of quarantine and how to approach any concerns.
- Share resources with teachers and staff. If you feel comfortable, provide training upon the return to school, or you can email a newsletter, weekly updates, or links to helpful websites.
- Addressing emotional and behavioral problems that result from trauma can be taxing on our own personal wellness. Be sure to take care of yourself.
- Stay connected with family, friends, and loved ones.
- Exercise, meditate, and spend time outdoors or doing the things that bring you joy.
- Seek help from a mental health provider if you are experiencing very high levels of stress or anxiety.
- Take advantage of your employee assistance plan, if available (ask your HR department for details).
- NASP health crisis resources: NASP provides numerous articles on helping children and schools cope with changes resulting from COVID-19.
- CDC resources: The CDC has a site that is specifically geared to K-12 schools. There is guidance on how to plan, prepare, and respond to COVID-19; tips on prevention and support; and printable posters.
- George Washington University provides a comprehensive website for school response to COVID-19: There is guidance for prevention, action, nutrition, cleaning, mental health, and self-care.
- Self-care for student support professionals: TRAILS to Wellness and the University of Michigan provide a comprehensive document on self-care.
It may be a challenge to address the wide array of emotions and behaviors that may arise when the students return to school in the fall. With the correct tools, we can help their transition to be smoother and more successful.