Brett W. McFadden: COVID-19’s emotional toll on our students
The Nevada Joint Union High School District initiated Distance Learning within days of ending direct instruction classes and closing campuses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
We have been making adjustments almost daily to ensure our students receive the best education possible, while accepting that circumstances are far from ideal. In midst of this crisis, we need to demonstrate sensitivity and compassion, which are more important than any academic content.
We realize and acknowledge that some students are experiencing high levels of anxiety. They miss the social interaction with their teachers and classmates. They miss the joy generated by extra-curricular activities and the camaraderie of being with their friends and classmates.
At a basic level, students are grieving over the loss of their final drama production, sports season, proms, end of year celebrations, and for some, culminating events such as senior projects and graduation ceremonies. Students feel they’ve been robbed of the experiences, interactions and relationships that are integral to their teenage years.
This month I will offer some suggestions to help relieve the emotional distress that many of our students are experiencing while sheltering in place.
The conditions and characteristics of the pandemic change constantly, as do our emotions and reactions. This problem is uniquely different from general teenage angst. Students have been torn away from those who enrich their personal lives, listen to their woes, help them with academic goals and promote self-advocacy.
Please visit http://www.njuhsd.com/Our-District/Superintendent/COVID-19-Updates/index.html, where you will find a video message from me, information about the new grading policy, and a variety of other COVID-19-related resources.
As the pandemic continues to test our resolve, people may feel severe isolation, loss of self-worth, hopelessness and depression. Parents should monitor their students, and students should check-in with friends. Be on the lookout for:
• Expressions of hopelessness, or desire to hurt themselves
• Being solitary and/or sedentary
• Risky behaviors, such as substance abuse
• Changes in sleep patterns
• Expressing increased irritability, rage or revenge
• Extreme anxiety or withdrawal
• Severe mood swings
While everyone feels those things from time to time, it is the increase in occurrence and severity that should trigger alarms.
It’s important to know we are not helpless. We can always choose our response. Here are some ways we can take care of our mental health when faced with uncertainty and stress.
Recognize those things that are within your control and which are not. How much news you take in is a good example of this.
Do what helps you feel safe.
Stay in the present. Avoid compounding your worry by projecting the future.
Spend time outside while adhering to social distancing. Fresh air, sunshine, and exercise are important elements of physical and mental well-being.
Stay connected with your school.
Here are two websites that contain even more helpful information: http://www.leftbrainbuddha.com/mindfulness-for-teens and http://www.covid19k12counseling.org/help-%2F-hotlines.
A note to our parents: Dealing 24/7 in confined spaces not only as a parent but as a playmate, teacher and caregiver can be intimidating and overwhelming. Loving your children may be a given, but total confinement puts a new spin on patience.
Additional complications include the adult stressors of possible or confirmed unemployment, and the resulting loss of income for food, housing and other necessities. While we may not all share the same situation, we do share the apprehension over new unknowns and uncertainty about how to deal with them.
Here is something you can definitely count on. During the crisis, our district will continue to distribute meals to our students and families every Tuesday 11:30 a.m, – 1 p.m. at Nevada Union and Bear River High Schools. Each distribution contains five breakfast and five lunch meals. We want to thank the United Way and the Food Bank for partnering with us in this effort.
Our high school district counselors, intervention specialists, and mental health therapists are available by telephone and online. Reach out. Don’t delay if you suspect a problem is intensifying. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage.
We are Nevada County strong! We will get through this by supporting and caring for one another.
Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett W. McFadden writes a monthly column for The Union. He has more than 29 years of education leadership and policy experience statewide. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.
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