PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s true the pandemic has taken a toll on the physical health of people but it’s also taken a toll on mental health. And as students are gearing up to return full time to in-person learning, their mental health is on educators’ minds.

Superintendents across Oregon who spoke with KOIN 6 News shared how many school districts are planning “welcome back” to school activities — bands, balloon, joyful signs, having teachers out greeting students.

They plan to keep that momentum going by spending the first week of school focusing on fully connecting with students through arts and crafts, nature walks, music, dancing, fun activities to promote connection and relationships — and not so much throwing math problems and homework at them.

“Mental health is really a cornerstone of education. And sometimes the pressure of getting right to business with academics and learning can prevent us from spending the time that’s really important to bind and connect with others,” said Grace Bullock, the Senior Mental Health Strategist for the Oregon Department of Education. “So the permission piece where they’re giving time and space to connect is really a fundamental piece of creating the environment and the conditions where students can thrive.”

Prioritizing students’ mental health will help learning come more effortlessly, officials said.

But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Everyone needs to give everyone else some space. It also starts at home and Bullock said the more parents can create predictability and stability at home the more resilient their kids will be at school.

“Kids are energy magnets and the energy that we create in our homes,” she said. “They’re very sensitive to that, whether we’re saying, literally out loud, that we’re anxious and nervous, or whether they’re reading it in our body language or what we’re not saying. Children really do need to have that sense of safety and security coming from the home.”

It’s OK for parents to feel nervous or anxious about this school year, she said. But it’s important that parents talk to their kids in appropriate ways to re-inforce that resilience. That includes simple routines like regular meals, dropping them off at school or the bus stop, talking about their day and having a healthy, regular bedtime.

Bullock said transitions are hard — and this year will inevitably be different.

Don’t dismiss your children’s feelings of nervousness and pay attention to any behaviors that are out of the ordinary for your child, she said. Among those: not eating, not sleeping, being very agitated or aggressive.