Psych professor: Aggression among students unsurprising

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Reynolds Middle School will switch to distance learning for 2 weeks

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Thursday marks the first day of a two-week hiatus for in-person learning at a local school as educators attempt to tackle the ongoing issue of fights between students.

Reynolds Middle School will switch to distance learning for about two weeks starting next Monday. In a statement, Reyolds School District Superintendent Dr. Danna Diaz said staff at the school is finding that some students are “struggling with the socialization skills necessary for in-person learning, which is causing disruption in school for other students.”

The school is now looking to contract with a private company to provide security at both Reynolds Middle School and Reynolds High School, in addition to helping train campus monitors. The district is also preparing to pay for more counselors.

Psychologist: Outbursts not surprising

Andrew Mashburn, a psychology professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Portland State University, told KOIN 6 News the school will need long-term solutions as well.

Mashburn says he’s not shocked they’re seeing these issues arise. Because students haven’t been around each other very much for the past year and a half, the psychology professor says they’ve lost the chance to socialize and learn the crucial skills of getting along.

Instead, most of their interactions were limited to being online — making these aggressive outbursts unsurprising, Mashburn said.

“It’s very easy when you talk about social, emotional learning to only talk about the child,” Mashburn said. “If you only focus on those children who are displaying those behaviors, we’re not going to solve the problem. We have to change the system.”

Dr. Deidre Hon, a Professor of Education at University of Portland with an expertise in social and emotional learning, told KOIN 6 News she’s sad to hear “these students are struggling in these ways and that they’re not able to cultivate meaningful relationships.”

She said teachers and students have experienced trauma and uncertainties throughout the pandemic, increasing stress on both groups.

“We watch our students being kind of kicked around in a pinball machine between online learning, back to school, online learning and back and forth,” Hon said. “And really, we need to think about repairing our relationships, both between students and between students and teachers.”

Meanwhile, Mashburn explained it is important to think about social and emotional behaviors not as being an attribute of a certain child — but as complicated sets of behaviors that come from children’s interactions within their home, their neighborhood and their classroom.

He said educators at Reynolds Middle School are on the right track by first developing relationship-building opportunities for teachers to bond with their students, as well as integrating a social and emotional skills curriculum and lessons when these middle school students return to in-person learning in early December.

“Social, emotional learning can help students develop skills and practice them so that they’re able to interact with people in a respectful manner,” Hon explained.

All of this combined with the school’s plan to invest in more counselors and social workers to support teachers with more resources is crucial to success, according to the psychology professor.

For parents, Mashburn suggests checking in with your children at the end of the day and spending time on things outside of academics. He says it all boils down to relationship building with kids.

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