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Robin Glenn

Godspeed Little Man

Elementary Remote School

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week our CEO, Robin Glenn shares her own, personal, observations of remote learning during the time of COVID-19. Very few of us are untouched by current events and we all have stories just like hers.

Robin Glenn

Robin Glenn

This is my 20th year writing pieces in recognition of Mental Health Awareness.  Each year I write about the harsh statistics, I raise awareness, and I try in perpetuity to validate the feelings and concerns of all humans.

This year is different.  This year is different in a million macro and micro ways…for all people.

The statistics are telling.  Mental health issues are on the rise.  Upticks in anxiety and depression specifically, are directly related to the new challenges of this monumental year.  Isolation, economic hardship, racial unrest, political turmoil, grief and loss, all things COVID, professional uncertainty… this list goes on and on.  

We have always been aware of mental health issues.  We have always struggled with how to reach our most vulnerable as well as educate the uninformed.  Lives continue to suffer.  No one is alone, yet many still grapple with the realization that while they’re not alone, their reality would suggest otherwise.  

Enter our newest generation.  

My sister-in-law recently sent me a picture of my nephew on his first day of kindergarten.  My initial reaction was not one of joy or excitement, as one would expect in a typical photo of a rite of passage.  Not this year.  This year my reaction to this milestone was sorrow.

His headphones on, his little feet dangling, and the sheer isolation, distancing him from something we all took for granted in the times of “P.C.” (pre-COVID).  That first experience of meeting a new friend, standing in a line marching proudly and nervously away from parents, further exercising individuation.  The excitement of opening a lunch box, the confusion of the perfuse capabilities of a banana despite impenetrable wrappings, the proud responsibility in recalling a lunch number, learning about new people through the food they eat, swapping out anything for a tater tot.  Learning about one’s self in a sea of new faces, interacting with a teacher for the first time- a new adult teacher who is not a guardian.  Running outside to an undiscovered playground, coming back inside to the smell of paste, sweaty childhood, and snack time.  Finally, the proudest moment of all… running into the arms of a loving caregiver at the end of the day with a memorable paper token in hand.  Being able to share the stories of growth, triumph, and accomplishment and having a taste of what’s to come… None of that was in his universe that day.  

As Little Man learns that isolation is “normal”, what will become of him?  How will he ever feel as though he is not alone?  According to a recent NPR article (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/01/23/798676465/most-americans-are-lonely-and-our-workplace-culture-may-not-be-helping), 3 in 5 Americans are lonely.  In this article, Doug Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, stated that “In-person connections are what really matters. Sharing that time to have a meaningful interaction and a meaningful conversation, to share our lives with others, is important to help us mitigate and minimize loneliness.”  

Without these interactions nor the experience of confidence-boosting milestones, how will this generation be impacted?  What will the mental health of our youngest citizens reflect?  Will they be more resilient because they never knew what was once considered to be normal?  Will they not crave socialization?  Will their DNA alter us just a little bit toward being lone wolves?  Will their experiences change the way we interact as a society?  Or will their innate building blocks predispose them to greater loneliness, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal?

Little Man is making history.  We have yet to even begin to grasp the outcomes directly related to his generations’ experience.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an outcome already on the rise in adolescents and adults.  This is characterized by intense emotional upset following a highly distressing experience.  Does Little Man know enough to become traumatized?  Will the repercussions be the same for him as seen in others through lack of mood stabilization, lack of resilience, and difficulty overcoming challenges?  It’s hard to know.

How do we support these little people in times that are so uncertain for even the most well-grounded adults?  Caregivers are depressed, anxious, traumatized, and depleted.  Now they’re tasked with instilling a sense of security and “normalcy” in their little pioneers.  They can only do their best and leave it at that.  The added pressure of needing to outperform, beyond one’s ability to bolster is an added stressor for many caretakers.  A few helpful tips include: provide specific praise with exuberance, tell them you are proud, have them show you around their “classroom”, and ask them about their friends.  Their world is as real to them as yours was back in the days of old.  Treat them like the little groundbreakers they are and let them know they are amazing because they are.  They’re trailblazers.

In another 20 years, what will my Mental Health Awareness Month write-ups cover?  Detachment? Apathy? Resilience?  How will we be believable when we say, “you’re not alone”?  Human beings are capable of enduring and growing from extreme suffering, out of which we find light and joy.  Will our smallest members of society shed light on new levels of joy?  Will they find new ways to feel connected?  I am optimistically hopeful that these little people will introduce to us a new way of living and of connecting to one another.  I choose to believe that they are stronger than we know.   I choose to believe that they will break ground on the challenges of mental health because they will know something that we don’t.  The possibilities of these outcomes are endless, and I choose to remain hopeful because Little Man is changing the world.

Elementary Remote School

Global Uncertainty Poses Multiple Challenges for Youth

Remote Learning With Headphones

Originally posted on Thrive Global.

The issues affecting kids are not just COVID-19 and remote learning, but political unrest, social media, financial duress, and other interrelated issues.

They are all coming together in a challenging 2020 that will put short and long-term burdens on kid’s mental health. Educators and teachers managing remote education for the year will need to consider adding tools and processes for addressing mental health, not just academic progress, and scores.

Remote learning poses challenges for all students and sheds light on the disparity problems along racial and income lines. Some districts are struggling to locate kids. For example, as of mid-July, there are more than 10,000 South Carolina students that districts have not been able to contact. Many children in poorer communities are more likely to experience homelessness or transient living arrangements that make it difficult to stay in touch with school districts.

According to data from McKinsey, black and Hispanic students are particularly impacted by COVID-19 in terms of their learning. This group experiences lower engagement rates, with just 60 to 70 percent of students logging in regularly for classes and assignments. They also see higher rates of “learning loss” during this time as well as increased drop-out rates in high school. While racial and economic disparities are not new to 2020, they are exacerbated by the various stressors of COVID-19 and the requirements of technology-based learning.

Improving Youth Lives with Social-Emotional Learning

Conducting remote learning is a daunting task for teachers and educators. Many are focused on the academic piece of fine-tuning classes, structuring Zoom classes, and figuring out grading in a remote learning world. However, this teaching and learning is still going on during an unprecedented crisis, one that impacts every child from K through 12th. More learning should focus on the entirety of the child, including their own self-image and feelings. Here is the opportunity for social and emotional learning (SEL) to shine. When it’s done properly, SEL helps children to better manage their emotions, create positive relationships, establish goals, and relieve some of the stress from their upended daily lives. It provides teachers and staff with insights that are difficult to uncover through impersonal remote learning alone.

Finding the Right SEL Partner

SEL platforms provide opportunities for educators to learn and care more for their student populations. Top-tier platforms, such as that offered by BASE Education feature fully online mechanics, with both course delivery and receipt happening through a secure portal, unlike some SEL providers that offer courses online but intake responses on paper or other unconnected methods. Top SEL providers will feature real-time progress monitoring, so educators and counselors can see any harmful language or concerning topics immediately.

Here are some tips and criteria for selecting an SEL course provider:

  • Choose a provider with multiple courses that dive deeper into how kids are feeling. Armed with this context, educators can then better advise students and solve problems.
  • SEL courses should follow certain dialectical frameworks because the phrasing of questions matters. Adults should review each question before publication to ensure they are prompting students with therapeutic dialogues.
  • SEL courses should follow a “stair-step” approach to improve kids’ stress levels. This begins with introductory courses that gives teachers a baseline for “this is who I am”, so they understand a student’s motivation level and can meet them appropriately. Then the courses should go deeper into the various life changes happening and assessing the student’s coping and resiliency skills. Next are SEL courses that ask students how specifically they are handling stressors, with direct questions talking about anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

A clinically proven and structured SEL approach gives educators and teachers insights into the students who need immediate assistance, as well as those who might require more check-ins over the course of the remote learning period.

The usage of an SEL platform should be up to the individual student. Kids first take a “welcome course” that details how the program works, as well as clear disclosure statements the students must accept to move forward. Educators need to fully understand these disclosures and be able to discuss details with students as necessary. The disclosures state the system is recording everything the student writes, even content they write and delete before submittal. Information is kept in strict confidence, with certain exceptions for instances where the user threatens to hurt someone or themselves. It is a similar requirement with therapists who are required to report abusive living situations, potential suicidal thoughts or attempts, and similar issues.

Mental Health Struggles

Quarantine conditions are pushing kids towards electronic screens, both for online learning as well as video games, social media, and the internet. Social media is driving feelings of isolation, instances of cyberbullying and inundating youth with messages about the pandemic. Separation from physical contact and interaction is another factor pushing youth towards depression and isolated feelings. According to an article from Medscape titled “COVID-19 and the ‘Echo Pandemic’ of Suicide and Mental Illness,” youth populations are headed towards spiking rates of mental illness and suicide. It offered the need for social services, counseling, and other programs to head off a potential epidemic. Kids are also under stress due to the political discord in the country, including increased tribalism and political disagreement. This creates a further disparity among kids (and their parents) who differ on their political views and adds an additional issue impacting their mental health and ability to learn.

SEL courses play a direct role in improving mental health outcomes, preventing suicides, and stopping violent incidents such as school shootings. Platforms with monitoring and keyword-based alerts can give educators and counselors enough warning about at-risk students to offer interventions and guidance. Top-tier SEL programs have demonstrated success at stopping impending suicide attempts, as well as improving overall mental wellness and self-esteem marks. This directness is a hallmark of effective SEL programs—the questions do not dance around issues but confront them head-on with relatable and edgy content.

Success with SEL programs requires a top-down approach with full committed leadership support. The most successful implementations are those that are part of a wellness culture, not the district simply “box-checking.” Used properly, these programs provide districts with in-depth data to help students manage 2020 on multiple fronts.