It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented mental and emotional challenges, especially for students and parents trying not only to progress in school but to also keep their spirits up as their routines are uprooted.
In order to help address the challenges students and families are facing, the Centralia School District held a virtual Behavioral and Mental Health in Students Forum hosted by Northwest Pediatrics psychologist Stacey Webber-Villanueva on Thursday evening. About 30 parents, Centralia School District staff and other community members took part in the forum.
Webber-Villanueva shared information about how families, children and young adults can be feeling while living through a natural disaster, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to help the forum’s participants understand the specific challenges a student could be facing and some strategies to help deal with them.
The change in the learning environment with virtual school can increase a student’s “cognitive load” to the point where adapting to the “new mode of learning” can make processing the teacher’s lessons much more difficult.
“Their cognitive function, the way they’re thinking, their motivation to approach problems changes in natural disasters. So we have a huge shift in the way that we are teaching and they might be, because of some emotional and physical stress that they are feeling, they might be at some of the weakest they’ve been in a long time,” Webber-Villanueva said. “It creates for a lot of students a sense of failure and a feeling that they can’t learn.”
She recommended that parents manage the impacts of the current natural disaster by assessing the “emotional energy of their household” and to perform “check-ins” with their children to let them know that everyone is struggling together.
“The check-ins’ don’t have to be face-to-face. I’ve had some families express how deeply they’ve gotten to connect through text … and that’s been a relief for parents,” Webber-Villanueva said.
She spoke about the “parental guilt” that can appear when parents feel like they cannot maintain a stable environment for their children.
One parent shared via the Zoom chat box that she was having difficulty getting her kindergarten-aged son to complete his schoolwork on the days where he is learning from home.
Centralia School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant told the parent, and any other parents or student that is struggling with at-home learning, to contact their teacher or guidance counselor for help. More info about the school counseling can be found on the district’s website along with a “virtual councilors center” where Zoom sessions can be scheduled.
While younger students, those with special needs and English language learners have had some in-person instruction through a hybrid model, many of the district’s remaining students are expected to return for some variety of in=person learning in March.
The entire Behavioral and Mental Health in Students Forum with clinical psychologist Stacey Webber-Villanueva can be watched on the Centralia School District Facebook page.