Action Plan to Effectively Return Kids to School: As the world moves to reopen schools, much emphasis is being placed on how we can ensure physical safety and distancing. But there is much more to consider.
Each student and family have faced drastically different circumstances in this period, and these different experiences, informed by our employment status, socio-economic status, family dynamics, and even general health and nutrition, will shape the mental wellbeing and resilience of the students and families that we serve. Little is known about how the students and their families have changed since Covid-19 caused school closures, but organizations like Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society are worried that these sudden, uncertain alterations to routine have negatively impacted our youth’s mental health.
Students returning to school, supported by their families, will be bringing back a host of unique and personal challenges that schools have not previously needed to address. Schools will need new types of support systems to be able to return to a ‘new normal’.
To ensure a whole-student-safe and supportive environment, schools must consider and be prepared to address a potentially overwhelming list of considerations: mental health challenges from uncertainty and fear, abuse and Trauma from increased rates of domestic violence, loss or separation from loved ones, financial and food insecurities, racism and xenophobia.
To prepare for these critical issues Educators as well as Child and Youth health experts across Canada are recommending that schools:
- Prioritize student wellbeing over academics. While students will need support catching up, social-emotional learning is critical during this time.
- Proactively reiterate zero tolerance policies for bullying, exclusion, and racism. With the rise of anti-Asian racism in Canada and in the US, the National Association of School Psychologists suggests strengthening anti-bullying and anti-discrimination programming.
- Identify and compile resources such as food banks, shelters, free or low-cost tutoring services, and mental health services, to support students and families in the transition back to school, while keeping in mind that every family has different needs.
These recommendations may be hard to implement without infrastructure that enables educators and administrators to deal with the significant increased capacity requirements while also recognizing the unique diversity of each school, student & family.
In order to help schools prepare for this ‘new normal,’ we have prepared this 6-step plan, providing a single automated system with relevant and appropriate support for all stakeholders. The steps minimize touchpoints while providing the most support.
- Convey Empathy. The core value for success in supporting a student is to convey empathy in all communications, screening initiatives, and direct interventions including multi-lingual support.
- Assess. Screen and assess each student and their family for physical, financial, and emotional needs before the doors re-open. Recognize that many of these needs can be embarrassing, stigmatizing, and may not readily be evident.
- Triage. Based upon the screening & assessment data, triage each student and their family with respect to the available resources into 2 groups:
a) Those simply needing information & guidance
b) Those needing live, human-to-human support services.
- Inform. For those in group (a), automate the delivery of relevant information and guidance. Empower students and families that simply need to know where to access support with little or no human intervention, minimizing the burden on the school and staff.
- Support. For those in group (b) connect students & families who need it to counselling services.
- Prepare to virtualize counselling support, rather than rely on face-to-face settings. Virtual services can more effectively support the students and their families from anywhere, and at any time rather than being limited to in-school sessions.
- Empower counsellors, teachers, psychologists with powerful, actionable, high-quality data to optimize outcomes not only for the students and their families but those providing supportive services to them.
- Check-in with teachers and school staff and extend support to them as well. Ensure clear and transparent communication throughout the opening process.
- Learn: Leverage the data to support schools in developing programming for their unique school environment.
We are seeing such an approach put to use in various locations with great success; Tickit® is being used to support the entirety of such an approach based on its Design for Digital Empathy (DDE) System to establish trust with each student and each of their family members.
This leads to more effective use of limited counselling resources that are already under immense pressure as so many students – once happy and healthy – are now returning to school suffering from fear, uncertainty, and other issues that transcend the physical and Covid-19 related direct risks.
Keep in mind that it’s not just about the student. If the family can’t support the student, everything the school does during the day to help may be undone when they return home. This is exactly why, in partnership with thought leaders, we developed the Back 2 School Screener Too specifically to support youth and their families as they return to school. This Tool will assess and empower a family’s readiness to enable and independently support their own kids as they return to school, as well as enhance the school’s and it’s staff’s ability to support each student in the process.
Good luck, and remember, we are all in this together.
Dr. Sandy Whitehouse
Learn about Tickit’s solutions for education here.