Attention school administrators, principals, teachers, SROs, and students. What has your campus shown you in the last 90 days? Put the past 24 months aside, and just focus on 2022. What has been happening in YOUR SCHOOL?
Chances are, you rode a wave of disruptions as the Covid-19 Omicron variant ripped through your campus in January. For most of the United States, as quickly as the wave hit, it also rapidly receded in February and March. Most of us are somewhat grateful to come to the conclusion that Covid-19 has moved into a more endemic phase and that its something we can handle seasonally moving forward, just as we have become accustomed to with cold and flu seasons.
Now allow your memory to focus on the behavior around campus. What has changed? Are there more physical and verbal altercations? Has your school received threats of violence? What does academic performance look like when compared to 2019? Have grades dropped? Has participation in sports and other school activities declined? What does employee and student morale look like?
If we all take a step back and give an honest assessment of our campuses, chances are the results will show an overall decline. For most schools, the behavioral decline has been worsening in the last 90 days. Why would mental health and behavior be declining when Covid-19 restrictions are mostly receding?
When people experience a traumatic event(s), it's common to have an emotional reaction. Such stress reactions are normal. People often say that their first feeling is relief to be alive after a traumatic event. This may be followed by stress, fear and anger.
When the traumatic event is a prolonged series of events, the same can occur on a more magnified scale. Worse yet is what we are now facing as a nation. Just as we are coming out of the Covid trauma, we are being thrust back into a new series of stressful events. Explosive inflation and skyrocketing gas prices are already affecting families across the nation. When families feel economic stress, kids feel it too. And now, President Biden is warning that we are about to face a global food crisis. Yes, the United States is embarking on the very serious issue of food shortages. As a person alive today, you have likely never faced a global food shortage. If expert predictions are correct, this will be something that will impact all of us. A nationwide food crisis could be a trauma that many won't be able to adequately handle. Food insecurity is already an issue across many communities, a global food shortage will amplify that on a more widespread basis.
So, you may now be asking yourself a very obvious question...what can schools do to combat this?
For many students, school has always served as a safe-space of sorts. A place to feel normal, with a routine, with predictability. Much of that has been upended by Covid, but for the most part we are now able to focus on getting back to pre-Covid function in schools. The harsh reality is that this process now involves dealing with the fallout and new negative economic forces.
Mental Health Resources Are Key
Right now, schools needs to be identifying ways to support students and staff from a mental health perspective. What resources can your school solicit? How can your community come together to provide emotional support and healing for your students and staff? Do students have options? Do students know where to go if they are experiencing an issue? The NASCPC can help you with this process.
Identifying Risk and Violent Tendencies
With the uptick in bad behavior comes the risk that this behavior will escalate to violent threats and attacks. How does your school identify students at risk? How do you intervene to mitigate violence? What resources does your school provide to nurture an at-risk student? The NASCPC can help you with this process.
Technology has come a long LONG way in the past decade, what technology does your school use? How does the technology fit into your critical response action plans should violence strike? What technology gaps exist? The NASCPC can help you with this process.
Becoming a Blanket of Support and Togetherness
While a school alone cannot solve all the issues our students face today, it is possible to make your school as safe and nurturing as possible. In many cases, a safe school environment may be the only place a student can find stability, predictability, and comfort. A student will be challenged to meet his/her full potential without this blanket of support. Even the slightest amount of nurturing young minds can help. Here are some ideas on things you may want to consider in your school:
Implement "fireside chat" situations. One of the best ways to promote wellbeing in schools is to increase awareness and encourage a positive dialogue surrounding it by making support more accessible for those who are struggling.
Organize career path events for students where local businesses come to meet with students and help them to ignite a desire to focus on how they can better themselves.
Mindfulness lessons - In schools around the world, some children are taking 10 minutes out from the hustle and bustle of the school day to reflect on their thoughts and feelings. Give yoga a go at lunchtime perhaps.
Activity fairs - Showcasing the clubs and teams at your school. Encourage students to attend and discover new things to do at school, and ways to meet new friends.
Sports Day - There is no better way to get students active than a fun-filled day of sports and activities. Running, jumping, racing, and tournaments are all great ways for your school to get moving. You can even do these on a monthly basis and for very little money. Local businesses can also donate to the cause with equipment.
Solicit the Voices of Students - Give students the opportunity to speak up and feel heard by encouraging them to give feedback and provide alternatives to school, new learning forms, or even reasons to go to school.
Schoolwide Garden - Why not get your student body together and start planting? If every student brought in one small package of seeds, can you imagine the garden your school could grow? Envision the ripple-effect that could happen if an entire generation of kids learned how to contribute to growing healthy food sources?
We realize these ideas may not work for all schools, but chances are a number of them will. The idea is to get creative, get involved, and get to work. School leaders, you can be a beacon of hope for children in your school right now. While that may sound a bit grandiose in nature, we must understand the impact we have on our students lives. We all have a special memory of a special teacher from our school days. Someone who made a difference. We can be a collective group of leaders that makes a difference and its time we start focusing on that.
Everyone has a part to play in successful and safe schools. The NASCPC is committed to educating schools on how to most effectively achieve those goals at every school across the nation. We can help your school too.
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