PLATTSBURGH — In stressful situations, children look to the adults in their lives for guidance on how to react, says Dr. Laci Charette, a SUNY Plattsburgh psychology professor and state-certified school psychologist.
That includes during the current COVID-19 pandemic, throughout which almost all local children have experienced new, and sometimes changing, educational models since the start of this school year.
"To help children cope in this uncertain time, it is helpful for parents to stay calm, listen to their children and answer questions with developmentally appropriate responses, and offer them reassurance," Charette told The Press-Republican.
Charette added that parents and guardians could help students navigate this time period by explaining social distancing guidelines and how mask-wearing helps prevent coronavirus spread.
"Following a predictable schedule can give some control and normalcy," she continued. "For example, following regular wake and sleep schedules, and daily routines."
She said families and children could learn stress-relieving strategies, such as deep breathing and meditation, together.
Charette further advised reducing exposure to the news which can inundate students with COVID-19 updates, leading to increased anxiety. She suggested playing a game or partaking in another activity instead.
"Parents can also contact their child's teacher, school psychologist or school counselor for more ideas of how to support their individual child's learning and mental health needs."
The qualities of an optimal educational environment for student learning and socializing involves a comprehensive, school-wide approach that allows for interdisciplinary collaboration as well as a multi-tiered system of supports for students' learning, behavioral and mental health needs, Charette says.
That collaboration includes work "between administrators, teaching staff, school psychologists, counselors, speech-language pathologists, OT, PT and other support staff."
"All students receive evidence-based instruction and mental health support; students identified as at-risk or needing additional supports in learning, behavioral or mental health needs would receive intervention as needed," Charette continued.
"A positive school climate and a sense of safety are also essential to an effective learning environment."
In order to adapt to virtual learning, Charette said, each school had to assess equitable access to school supports and resources.
That included technological access in the form of such things as devices and internet service, how to ethically provide academic instruction and mental health supports, and how to ensure equitable access to education for students with disabilities.
They additionally had to assess students' home environment from a variety of angles, Charette said, such as whether students' basic needs were being met, whether they were safe or responsible for younger siblings, and their parents' employment statuses.
Due to COVID-19 exposure, multiple local districts in which students are engaged in hybrid models have had to switch temporarily to remote learning. Some planned to do so as a precautionary measure following Thanksgiving.
Charette said, when it comes to learning, the full impact of changing teaching modalities is not known.
"There are concerns about students not meeting typical learning goals or that there may be regression," she noted. "We also do not know the long-term consequences."
But there may be benefits to virtual learning, she pointed out, such as learning new technologies or learning strategies that may have otherwise been overlooked.
"Some students may benefit from or excel in on-line learning compared to traditional models. Some students may also be learning other adaptive living skills at home that they typically would not have learned.
"However, it is important to note that some students will not do well with the on-line learning environment and need one-to-one support that they may not have access to virtually," Charette continued.
"Schools are working to identify individual student needs and address those needs. This is a stressful time for everyone involved — teachers, parents and students."
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