In my job as the Assistant Head for School Partnerships at One Schoolhouse, I’m privileged to be in touch with independent schools across the country. I love the ability to see the big picture and identify the patterns and trends that are affecting school communities across the country. In the past few weeks, however, those patterns and trends have been exhausting to hear and process. That’s because what I’m hearing, almost without fail, is how worried educators are about their students.
The patterns and practices of typical schools serve as protective insulation for our students’ well-being. They spend time with peers and caring adults. They get physical activity. They have reassuring routines in their daily schedules. In hybrid and distance learning, most--if not all--of these protections have evaporated.
In a study from April 2020, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, investigators found that students in Hubei province (the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in China) who had experienced school closures and lockdown had a significantly higher incidence of depression and anxiety than the general population. The Lancet published an article, also in April 2020, that described a survey of teens and young adults with pre-existing mental health conditions; 83% of the respondents said the pandemic had made their conditions worse. This information is scary enough at a first read, but it’s terrifying when you realize these articles describe the state of mental illness less than two months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some of our students have now been off-campus for more than three times as long.
Knowing how vulnerable our students are right now, what can we do to help? We can focus on the same mission and values that we hold dear every day on campus, and learn the different strategies we use to express them online. There are three key steps that every educator can take to protect their students’ mental health in distance learning environments:
Most frequently, trauma is a discrete event. It has an end: the fire is put out, the car comes to a stop against the guardrails. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, just keeps going, exposing us to chronic stress and anxiety. There are very real consequences for this chronic stress, and there are also resources for individual support. As a community, schools and educators can help to protect our students by providing warmth and structure. Together, we can help our students build the resilience and connection they need to weather the storm.
Looking for a dive deeper on more ways to support student mental health this school year? Join us for an upcoming webinar and online course:
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)