The student, a male in high school who had been accustomed to daily socializing with friends and fellow students, had become isolated, leaving his bedroom only to eat or to possibly take part in a family event.
It’s a scenario, Hardin County Schools psychologist Stacie McCune, says that increasingly has become more common among students — regardless of age or gender — during a COVID-19 pandemic that essentially has closed in-person instruction around her district, and others, since mid-March.
Weekday interactions with teachers and other students through Google Meets hasn’t been able to satisfy the expectations or needs, McCune says, that students get from face-to-face interaction with other students, their teachers and others outside of a home environment.
Add in that some students are alone at home through a school day with parents or guardians in the workplace and the vast amount time students have to themselves, has become overwhelming to many.
“I am noticing there truly needs to be a good school-community relationship to promote virtual learning and ensure that we are keeping students safe and healthy at home, just as we are at school,” she said.
Kelly Fisher, a T.K. Stone Middle School guidance counselor, says kids need to be among kids, and other life influencers outside of the home.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking,” he said. “So many of our students have hit a wall and have given up. If there was ever a case for the teacher-student relationship and personal engagement, this is it. A lot of students cannot function on their own sitting behind a computer screen. They need the one-on-one instruction.”
McCune cites an alarming Centers for Disease Control statistic resulting from the pandemic. It says two in five people are struggling with mental or behavioral health issues associated with the pandemic, which could include anxiety, depression, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.
“Obviously this trickles down to our children and students in the district as they are also balancing the changes in lifestyle as well as learning via alternate measures such as online learning and Google meets,” she said.
“Students are not in the schools for us to visually have eyes on them to see the risks and warning signs we typically watch for, therefore, we are relying on parents and students to let us know if they need additional help or support during this time,” she added. “Teachers are doing everything they can to reach out when students are not engaged in the learning process or there are concerns mentally or academically. We are doing our best to reach those in need but the circumstances do cause difficulties ensuring everyone has the supports in place they need during this time.”
Fisher said it’s not just a few parents or students, who are facing an unprecedented challenge with out-of-school learning.
“The ones who have given up feel lost and desperate,” he said. “Daily, I field calls from parents and emails from students begging for help. Google Meets with students turn into peer support groups. They long for the interaction of their classmates … I’ve had parents, men and women, sobbing on the phone saying they don’t know how to help their student.
“Parents have to work, and students have to care for siblings,” he continued. “Many parents are out of work and stressed about Christmas. No matter how strong the parents are, it starts to trickle down to the kid.”
Hardin County School and Elizabethtown Independent Schools have not announced when they plan to resume in-person teaching. Hardin County has a scheduled school board meeting tonight.
McCune has spent 23 years as a school psychologist with students in K-12 and says, “I’m very concerned about the mental health of students at all ages overall, especially during COVID-19. I have noticed over the years an increase in younger students with behavior and or mental issues in the schools and feel the impact of COVID-19.”
“Children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events and to feel safe,” McCune added. “Right now, many adults are facing a unique set of challenges as well, with changes at home, work, and life. Adjusting to change and transition is difficult for families.”
She said many of her recent concerns stem from students failing classes and losing interest, for one reason or another, in their academics. Some students have no in-home structure.
“ … they don’t have parents at home to assist with learning and are either teaching themselves or siblings,” she said. “Parents are juggling jobs and family life and are stressed with financial burdens, sickness or other. Some students are not getting on Google Meets or in classrooms and parents are not there to monitor the situation or they are not checking with the child or teacher.”
A return to in-person learning will help students and families, McCune said, although there still will be challenges ahead.
“The return to school and/or normal life will likely be a transition that will need to focus on increased assessment measures, interventions and supports in place to help close the gap and identify those that need more individualized, intense supports,” she said.
The National Association of School Psychologists offers a number of suggestions for parents and guardians to aid students through out-of-school difficulties, such as focusing on the positive, offer lots of love and affection, monitor a student’s social media, encourage students to verbalize thoughts and feelings and look for risk factors or intense reactions.