Supporting Mental Health, Social, and Emotional Well-Being

The covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for education and has also placed an additional strain on the mental, social and emotional health of students. Schools continue to adapt and learn new best practices to offer their community the support they need. During College Board’s Forum session, entitled “In This Together: Supporting Mental Health, Social, and Emotional Well-Being,” panelists discussed the impacts of covid-19 on schools and students, and what is being done to support students, staff, and school communities.

The transitions students and educators had to make from one day to the next were uncharted waters. One of the main struggles students faced early on in the pandemic, was transitioning from being in a social, interactive environment in school to being relatively isolated and sitting in front of a computer for at-home learning. The digital divide that many students faced created another layer of stress they were faced with as many students lacked access to the technology required for remote learning.

Schools had to work diligently and quickly to provide students with the necessary resources to work remotely. Schools authorized the use of emergency funds to assist students facing economic hardships during these times. Panelist and Syracuse University student, Elijah Morrison, said this emergency aid allowed him to purchase a new computer, which was necessary to participate in remote learning.

Dr. Berenecea Johnson Eanes, President of York College, CUNY, acknowledged that “Everyone had to learn how to embrace these times, but also deal with the grief that came along with covid.”

Students felt isolated, and school staff now had to provide resources on and off campus. What resulted was a big increase in counseling. Some of the CARES Act funding was used for the enhancement of these services. More mental health services were provided for students. Virtual bootcamps and forums were held to assist students with preparatory services.

In order to better help students, school faculty and staff needed help of their own. Initiatives for staff were set up, such as an employee assistance programs and trauma support. Communication between staff and students changed during these times as their conversations now took place over email or video calls. This made it more difficult to connect at times but sharing an understanding of these tough times helped strengthen the relationship between staff and students. Panelist Rod Skinner, Dean of College Counseling at Milton Academy, added that his school held monthly information sessions for parents which alleviated stress and improved communication.

As students are making their way back to in-person learning, there has been some readjustments. The disconnect created by covid-19 between school and students is being mended. Dr. Yuridia Nava, Coordinator Counseling Support College/Career Readiness for Riverside County Office of Education, mentioned how younger students are having to relearn some school habits and behavior. However, all the panelists made it clear that staff and students are all happy to be back in-person and adjusting to the new norm.

Cross collaboration between faculty and staff has led to innovation in leadership. The union between all is what is allowing students and staff to receive the help they need and continue to excel.