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In its third year, the pandemic still affects Clark County school children and teachers

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Kristen DeSilva/KNPR
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As we head into the third year of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 lingers, especially on our children. 

In April, a UNLV School of Medicine study found 54% of parents surveyed said their children could benefit from mental health services. It also found that the stress parents were feeling was passed onto their kids. And many times, the kids felt responsible for it. 

We took a look at one school; what they’re seeing and how they are dealing with lingering virus, and the hangover from the depths of this pandemic. The school is C. C. Ronnow Elementary School, a school on the east side of Las Vegas at Washington Avenue and Pecos Road.

The principal, Michelee Crawford-Cruz, said they look at mental health more closely now. And because of a grant from UNLV and the city of Las Vegas, they’re getting more resources to help their kids in need. For individualization, they use surveys that can flag each student that needs to be helped.

Chris Mahoney, the school’s counselor, said his curriculum includes about 175 guidance lessons. 

“I think students are incredibly resilient,” he said. “And it all goes down to developing the relationships with the students. If they feel comfortable with the counselor, or teachers, or other staff members that are more likely to talk and speak up.”

He said certain students can cope with issues one week, but then next week have trouble. The problem could be coming to school, in the home or in the classroom. Each week, he said they do group sessions where students focus on peer relationships, conflict resolution and role playing.

“I'm constantly doing check-ins with students where I will go into the classroom. Sometimes, if it's a serious issue, I'll go in and check in the morning, in the afternoon, and at the end of the day, sometimes to help with transitions, sometimes to just check in to make sure the students are coping well,” he said. 

The school’s librarian, Erin Winder, was in her 15th year of teaching when the pandemic hit. Eventually in quarantine, she said she hated her job, and her daughter started to feed on her anxiety.

“When we learn, we do better in person, in group settings, not in isolation, that brings us lower down. And so it was a really big struggle to give the kids all my energy through technology, when you can just close the Chromebook or just mute me or just walk away from the Chromebook, turn your camera off. So it was a struggle there,” she said.

But now she’s back in the library, and loves it.

However, she said she sees gaps now. 

“We've got a certain group of students in there that have missed out vital key development stages, like going into certain grades and learning certain aspects and learning your personality and learning how to work and talk with others. And so it's a big gap,” she said.

For parents, it was equally tough. Connie Ambriz-Lugo, who’s had several children attend Ronnow, said she was forced to be a parent, teacher, counselor, nurse, cook, “and everything else.” 

“Bills didn't stop, and you just had to keep moving forward,” she said. 

What’s key is social emotional learning. Many of the students at Ronnow are unhoused or in foster care, and without parental leadership outside of school.

“If they get upset, angry, it can get physical, it can crowd their minds they're not able to learn. Social emotional learning is simply teaching our kids … how to have discussions, and how to praise others, and how to support, so that we can really support the learning environment,” Cruz-Crawford said. 

Right now, she said they’re dealing with stamina. Students aren’t able to attend a task for as long as they were able to before the pandemic. To help with that and other issues, they have 15 rules that focus on soft skills, like making eye contact, speaking in complete sentences and standing to speak. 

If students are experiencing silent trauma, she said to check in with them, have those conversations. Mahoney said to remain patient, “changes take time.”

“Worry about them as the person and the studies will come [and] get easier,’ Winder said. 

Michelee Crawford-Cruz​, principal; Chris Mahoney, counselor; Erin Winder, librarian; Connie Ambriz-Lugo, parent; all with C. C. Ronnow Elementary School

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.