Revise or Return: The Need for Creating a Post-Pandemic Safe Space for all Students

The pandemic exposed a greater need for personnel to support social and emotional wellbeing. The question then becomes, will school districts provide the staff and funding needed to make this a reality?

For everyone in the educational realm, this year has been one of many firsts, many questions, and never enough answers. How do we educate to the best of our abilities, when a pandemic is controlling the agenda? The answer is simple. We do the best we can, given the ever-changing landscape. This year has also brought to light an even bigger challenge - creating safe spaces for children where not only are their academic needs met, but also their increased social and emotional needs. This is vitally important as we begin planning for the 2021-2022 school year.

It is therefore paramount that school districts prioritize providing the staff and resources needed to meet the emotional needs of all students moving forward.

Schools have long recognized that student performance and school climate is positive when students can collectively and individually regulate their emotions. This pandemic has introduced many new stressors in the lives of children, while at the same time taking away their safety nets in friends, family, and trusted educators due to parameters set in response to COVID-19. My students have been dealing with issues of loss, social isolation, concerns about their health and safety, and at times, the difficulty of learning remotely. At the middle school level, this adds to the stressors that normally occur in the middle grades when students are attempting to find where they fit while becoming more independent both as learners and young adults.

In a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, in January of this year, a marked increase in depression and anxiety in adolescents and young adults as a result of the pandemic was observed. This has manifested itself in an increased need for guidance counselors, social workers, and school psychologists. Many schools, if they are lucky, have one or two counselors. In my own district, caseloads are in the hundreds. These numbers do not even begin to allow schools to meet the current needs of their student populations, let alone the growing need as a result of the past year. If we are to help our future generations succeed, we must provide the resources and funding necessary to ensure that students are emotionally secure.

Part of the work required will be ensuring that all school staff have the training to teach students the social and emotional skills needed to reconnect with others, re-engage with the learning process, and improve student capacity for dealing with stress responses. This will require a concerted effort on the part of school administrators and the greater communities so that this is made a priority. We have tiered support for academics, but it is long past time for the same concern and efforts be intentional in their application for each student’s psyche.

School should be about mind, body, and spirit.

During the last year, adults have dealt with emotional stress that has increased anxiety, disrupted sleep, and given so many of them headaches and stomach aches; it is understandable that this would also impact students in the same way. My own students have demonstrated a tenacity of spirit as we embarked on a journey of simultaneous in person and remote learning throughout this year.  But, they have not been unscathed.  Students are quieter, more tentative, some have suffered emotional setbacks and loss, while some are even so afraid that they remain remote.  How we deal with this will say a lot about how we value the education of young people we are charged with caring for in the K-12 system.

Across the nation, education has evolved, but the pandemic has made it obvious that  much revision is needed immediately.  We must act to ensure equity, improve scientific and civic literacy, value educators as professionals, and protect and improve the financial viability and sustainability of public education. Without these, there will be a return to a mode of education that no longer serves the needs of our students or the technologically advanced world in which they will continue to flourish and grow.  My fear is that we will go back to business as usual to the detriment of a whole generation of our future. Now is the time to evaluate, redo, and improve what we value as a society while we educate our future thinkers and doers.

LéAnn Murphy Cassidy, Ed.S. is the 2018 Connecticut History Teacher of the Year, as well as a 2018 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year Finalist. She has been a classroom teacher for thirty-three years, serving simultaneously as a lead teacher and master mentor for the last fourteen years.




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