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Three ways to support students’ mental health during COVID-19

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While COVID-19 has brought health concerns for people of all ages, it has especially brought concern for children’s emotional well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken steps to educate the public on social, emotional and mental well-being as trauma at a developmental stage could have long-term consequences. Nicole Detrick, upper school counselor and student support services coordinator at the International School of Indiana (ISI), an Indianapolis school that is the only one in the state to offer certified full-continuum International Baccalaureate programming and full language immersion, has tips and details to share about how we can support students’ mental health in the classroom during COVID-19.

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the steady increase in the abnormal amounts of anxiety we have been seeing in students in recent years. The uncertainty of the situation alone has added anxiety for students. Most students thrive best when they can learn in person when they are with educators and peers, but others have thrived in the remote learning environment. As educators, we must continue to find ways to support students, whether in person or virtually, with an understanding that each student faces their own unique set of challenges.

Set Aside Time to Focus on Wellness

I encourage schools and teachers to take time to focus on mental and emotional wellness. Whether it be a small part of each class or a larger time periodically, this time can be beneficial to all students. For example, at ISI, each Thursday, the middle school has a 55-minute emotional wellness program, and the high school holds wellness programming every other Thursday. The programming can be related to timely events, like cultural identity, or standard emotional wellness topics that students may be facing. Wellness programming allows students to develop an understanding of their emotional well-being as well as mental and emotional health overall.

Additionally, ISI includes learner profile attributes in their wellness schedule, which is a part of the International Baccalaureate programing, a continuum of international education that is a part of the curriculum. These learner profile attributes encourage students to be compassionate, open-minded, reflective, caring and balanced to promote individuals being responsible members of local, national and global communities. Setting aside time specifically to focus on different aspects of mental and emotional health can help students better understand themselves and learn how to best care for themselves.

Stay Up to Date on Best Practices by Collaborating with Other Educators

Things are changing even more quickly than normal due to COVID-19, and we need to stay up to date with these changes to understand how they are affecting students. Teachers at ISI are regularly trained in intervention to support student well-being and have taken even more steps to be supportive of students since the start of COVID-19. For example, we have seen success in collaborating with other teachers on best practices for supporting students’ mental health and brainstorming new strategies together. At ISI, each teacher partakes in professional time at the end of each day to develop these new strategies for alleviating stress on kids. I encourage teachers to work together and continue their education on supporting students’ mental and emotional health for continued support through these ever-changing times. 

Encourage Support at Home

Supporting students’ mental and emotional health is essential in school settings, but we should also be cognizant of encouraging support at home. I suggest teachers introduce a mode of communication with the student’s parents to keep everyone up to date on how a student is doing. Educators have recognized that reaching out to parents can have a negative connotation or seem like it only occurs when there is an issue. Our leadership continues to encourage its teachers to reach out weekly with something positive to open the door for two-way communication and create a cohesive support system for students. This added support helps to ensure the support is consistent wherever the students are.

For students’ support outside of school settings, we recommend apps like Calm and MyLife or websites like kidshealth.org. These resources touch on relevant topics from organizational skills to emotional support and encourage healthy behaviors.

COVID-19 has added stress to children of all ages. It is important that a student’s educational setting is adding to their emotional wellness and supporting their mental health. While the pandemic has brought obstacles to communication and social interactions, we have to adapt to continue providing support to our students.

Nicole Detrick is upper school counselor and student support services coordinator at International School of Indiana. 

For more information on the International School of Indiana, visit isind.org.

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