COVID-19 put stress on District 518 students, who adjusted

“They had to adjust a lot,” said Lindsay Jenniges, school social worker at Worthington High School.

“Overall, I think a lot of the students have adjusted. … It really affects each of us differently, ”added Lakeyta Swinea, school counselor at WHS.

At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, District 518 completed a needs assessment and students were able to answer questions about what they thought about COVID-19. Some said it had no impact on their lives at all, while others said it had made a big difference.

“I lost my job for a little while at the start,” wrote one senior. “I was also unable to visit my grandparents for a while. This caused a lot of disagreement for everyone (whether or not we should wear masks, get vaccinated, stay home, do this, do that, etc.) which is a lot of unnecessary stress added to everything. is already happening in the world.

Losses and difficulties

District 518 has a staff of 10 school counselors, four school social workers and three and a half school psychologists, all of whom help provide students with mental health resources and assistance when needed.

The pandemic has posed a series of changing challenges for everyone, regardless of age, and students are no exception. Some of these challenges have started to ease in 2021 while others have arrived to take their place.

“Last year it was really hard to switch from one learning model to another,” Jenniges said. “It’s been better this year, in general.”

At the same time, she saw more anxiety and depression in the students, some of whom liked to do their homework at home in their pajamas, where it was quiet.

It can help students focus on what they can control and change, Swinea said – their own actions and responses.

And many of the stressors that adults have suffered throughout the pandemic are shared by children.

“Some children have been stressed out about contracting COVID and passing it on to family,” said Abby Alfson, school psychologist for the district. “… It almost boils down to uncertainty. “

Many children face parents who have lost their jobs, and some face the loss of one or more parents. Loss of income can lead to loss of access to food and other basic needs, such as the reliable wireless internet service that students need.

Some students faced unexpected academic hardships, especially freshmen who moved on to high school and then had to move on to online classes as well, Jenniges said. Credit recovery options can help students who did not pass their courses catch up, in many cases.

Other students mourn other types of loss, such as the elderly who missed traditions from their senior year in high school because large gatherings were not allowed.

Most of the struggles of the past year were about the disappearance of the routines and structures of regular school time; this year the students had to readjust to the return of those routines and structures, Swinea said. It means getting to school on time every day.

Not all families had the same resources to deal with COVID-19 either. Some students became caregivers for their younger siblings as their parents had to work, Alfson said, and staff in District 518 also worked to accommodate them.

“The empathy factor has really increased,” she added.

She and Jenniges praised the teachers for their patience and kindness in helping the children overcome the pandemic.

What to watch

Stress manifests itself differently in different age groups, but there are a number of behaviors that parents, mentors, and community members can look for.

Changing behavior can be a sign that a child may be having difficulty. If a student has got A’s and B’s and suddenly brings D’s and F’s home, or a student’s personality seems to suddenly change, this may be a sign that they are struggling with stress, a Alfson said.

A child can also show they are stressed by disengaging from things they used to do, or showing more anxiety, especially social anxiety, agreed Swinea and Jenniges.

Changes in sleep patterns could also be a symptom, Swinea noted.

“It severely affected my mental health, my relationships with others (parents, partners, friends), my education,” one District 518 elder wrote in the needs assessment.

One junior noted that it had been “hard to focus” on education, and another senior said that “made us go online and I hated it”.

Some age groups have been affected in different ways than others. Many preschoolers, for example, fall a bit behind in their social skills, such as learning appropriate ways to socialize and show their emotions to others, Alfson said. Typically, the freshman class is a bit immature compared to previous freshmen, due to similar socialization gaps.

“The structure has been huge,” Alfson said, noting that many students have had to relearn what they’re supposed to do and “how to be in school”.

This can mean that to an observer, a child may appear to be defiant or behave deliberately badly when “they really don’t know what to do,” Swinea said.

silver linings

While some struggled, at times the children adapted remarkably well to the various changes brought about by the pandemic. They seemed to do well with the face mask, for example.

Other young people have taken on important responsibilities during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of students who are young adults,” said Swinea, praising their resilience and ability to cope with change. These students have also grown to understand the importance of self-care and coping skills – and they have empathy, with an understanding of the impact of the pandemic on their parents that made them want to help others. .

In turn, the community rallied around the children, Jenniges said.

When the pandemic prevented students from celebrating a graduation ceremony in person, they had a virtual one with a car parade. The community came to cheer on the children, celebrating their accomplishments with signs and applause.

“I think if (the students are) connected to the community, they feel that support,” Alfson said. “I hope they know.”

At least some students certainly did.

“(COVID-19) made me thankful for the people I have in my life,” wrote a District 518 elder in the needs assessment. “It affected my high school experience, but it wasn’t that bad, because I didn’t mind learning at home. Being independent made me more responsible for managing my time.

Another normal

In 2021, students returned to school in person, and although COVID-19 is still there, they are “coming back to another normal,” Jenniges said.

District 518 has done a number of things to help students cope with the stress of COVID. It adopted “Character Strong,” a social-emotional learning program, and students now have a designated counselor for all four years of high school. The district also increased mental health staffing levels, adding three school counselors. There are even “Mental Health Mondays” emails sent out on mental health related topics, such as depression, sleep, and cyberbullying, and “Words of Wisdom Wednesdays” for positive quotes.

The school has even set up a “virtual quiet room,” which parents, students and the public can access on the District 518 website, on the Learning Center page.

To help students struggling with basic necessities, Worthington High School has opened a Wellness Room, where children can receive shampoo, deodorant, conditioner, winter gloves, socks and more. essential products. Articles are donated by District 518 staff, but the public can also contribute by contacting Alfson or Swinea.

The greatest thing parents can do to help children weather the pandemic, however, is to just talk to them about it, Jenniges said.

“It can be a tough conversation, but you have to have that communication,” Swinea added.

As one grade 3 student wrote: “It was tough, but no one goes their life without a challenge or two! “

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