Going back to school poses challenges every year, but 2021 is unique.
After the pandemic forced students into distance learning early in 2020, Clark County students returned to classrooms this week with some behind on their academics or with rusty social skills. Some friendships have frayed and there’s anxiety about what’s next.
“They've experienced a lot of social isolation; they've they've had a lot of uncertainties in their life; and a lot of our students have experienced a lot of secondary trauma, where they themselves may not have been directly impacted by COVID, but their families may have been significantly impacted,” said Katie Dockweiler, a school psychologist who is currently working on a project at Nevada State College.
Jennifer Jaeger of the Clark County Public Education Foundation echoed that, saying adults can play an important part in helping children reconnect after all they’ve been through.
“We have to reach them where they are emotionally,” she told State of Nevada. “They've been isolated for such a long time, and away from the school setting that I think it's it's going to be a challenge to get them back in.”
The experts said parents should be looking out for changes in their children's behavior, such as disengaging with family and friends, becoming unkempt, or eating too little or too much.
Should concerns arise, a parent can respond by “nonjudgmentally and empathically listening,” said Dr. Lisa Durette, a professor at UNLV’s Kerkorian School of Medicine.
“Simply having that open door to listen, to empathize, that in and of itself can be really therapeutic for a kid,” she said.
Durette warned that the ongoing nature of the pandemic, where bad news frequently follows good, can be corrosive to mental health.
“We don't know what the end is,” she said, “and so when we think about the impact of this trauma on our youth, and adults, we don't know what it's going to be — we've never had anything like this.”
Katie Dockweiler, practicing school psychologist; Jennifer Jaeger, Leadership Institute vice president, Clark County Public Education Foundation; Dr. Lisa Durette, Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV