Return to in-person learning could impact students’ mental health

Education

After a year of isolation, going back to school could be tough for kids.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many parents worried about their children feeling isolated and depressed while they were away from their friends during distance learning, but experts say students’ return to the classroom may also take a toll on their mental health. 

Danielle Hudson, the executive administrator for Student Services at Beaverton School District, oversees the Office of Intervention and Prevention and the Behavioral Health and Wellness Department. She says her team will be hyper focused on students’ needs as they return for in-person hybrid classes. 

“We’re really concerned that we haven’t seen some of these students in a year, right? And so since we haven’t had that day-to-day contact, trying to figure out how are things at home? Are there things we need to know about? Really building those personal relationships,” she said. 

Beaverton School District has 54 Behavioral Health and Wellness Teams placed in all of its schools. The teams are made up of social workers, counselors, and student success coaches. 

Beginning April 5, the district will start allowing some students to return to school for in-person hybrid classes, while still leaving them the option to continue comprehensive distance learning if they’d like to. 

Hudson knows a lot of students will be excited to see their friends again, but there could be challenges for kids of all ages. 

For example, she said kindergarteners and many first graders who have been away from other kids for a year will need to learn how to play with each other again, how to share, and how to address disagreements. 

Older students will need to adjust to reengaging with their peers and figuring out where they fit in. Some students may also face in-person bullying for the first time in a year. 

Hudson says shortly before the pandemic began, Beaverton School District hired more counselors, social workers, and student success coaches. She says these staff members will be there to reach out and help students through bullying situations. 

She also says in October, Beaverton School District participated in Mental Health Awareness Week where teachers and students learned more about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. She says the district has also increased its suicide prevention and intervention trainings for staff members during the pandemic. 

As students return to school, Hudson says parents will also need to keep an eye on their kids for mental health symptoms. She says they should watch for signs their children are withdrawing or their grades are slipping or there’s a drop in their work production. 

“A student who is really involved in online learning, if they come back to the classroom and they’re not equally as involved… What do we need to do as a school to help support you because we do know that for some students, online learning has been successful for them and so, if a return to in-person learning isn’t, we’ve got to find out the why,” Hudson said. 

She says it will be important for parents to ask questions if their kids start saying they’d like to return to distance learning. She says to avoid yes or no questions and instead ask things like how are things going? Why do you want to come back to CDL? What’s going on at school?  

She also reminds parents that this sudden increase in social activity will likely be exhausting for many students, so they’ll likely be very tired when they come home from school. 

Hudson says she knows students who remain in comprehensive distance learning might feel left out when they see their friends spending time together. She says the Behavioral Health and Wellness Teams will also be checking in with these students routinely. 

In the weeks leading up to the first day of in-person hybrid classes, Hudson suggests parents start encouraging their kids to get in a routine. She says to practice waking up earlier, writing things on a calendar, packing a lunch, and getting items together the night before. 

“Some of the anxiety that I think parents are having and staff are having, I think when we see students, I think it will all come back together. So, excited for the next couple of weeks,” Hudson said. 

For parents concerned about their children’s mental health, Hudson recommends saving the phone numbers for Lines for Life and the county crisis line in their phones and their children’s phones. She says parents of students in the Beaverton School District can access Washington County behavioral health trainings online. 

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. If you live in Oregon, you can find crisis lines for your county at this website. If you live in Washington, suicide prevention resources are available on the Department of Health website. 

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