Health Experts On How to Cope With Altered School Year

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The closing of schools for the remainder of the school year due to COVID-19 has had a wide range of effect on students. Mental health experts from SamaraCare, 360 Youth Services, and North Central College offer advice on how to cope with an altered school year.

“A lot of youth are doing really well. Not having the in-person kind of alleviates a lot of stressors off their plates,” said Margot Smith the clinical director at 360 Youth Services. “Other students are having more anxiety, the wondering of when will stuff go back, grieving the loss of some of the milestones they usually will be encountering this time of year. Kind of wondering about the future, same thing adults are doing too right?”

360 Youth Services Resources

Indian Prairie School District 204 and 360 Youth Services have had a partnership since before the pandemic, and are offering virtual counseling to parents on how they can deal with these unprecedented times.

Struggle of E-Learning For Young Students

For younger students, the altered school year is particularly challenging, as school plays an important part in shaping interaction skills.

“When you think of kindergarten a lot of it is about socializing, sharing ideas, and some of that just get missed in kindergarten,” said Char Slezak a licensed clinical psychologist at SamaraCare. “As school get more structured kids can cope a little better, but so much of school is about the social interaction.”

Build A Routine

Slezak says parents should simulate a school routine so their children can get on a consistent schedule.

“I think for those kids whose parents have a routine and a structure and are available to help their kids where they see them struggling with some of the online learning, some of those kids are doing ok,” said Slezak.

How The Pandemic Is Affecting Seniors

For high school students, in particular seniors who have life events like prom and graduation up in the air, the pandemic has been especially stressful.

“There’s grief, there’s a lot of grief surrounding [it]. Especially for those who have worked really hard like ‘I put in all this work and now the end result is getting ripped away. I don’t get to do graduation and walk across the stage or get to do prom’ Or all of these really big things that we as adults are in your memory forever,” said Smith.

Both District 203 and 204 have announced tentative reschedule dates for senior related events.

But with those still not a certainty, Smith urges parents not to minimize the stress seniors may be going through.

“When there’s a lot of other big things going on, people losing jobs, people having health issues I know sometimes it’s our tendency to say ‘well at least this…Well you don’t get to graduate, but you still are graduating or you can go to a dance in college’. We minimize people’s reactions to things, so I think overall I’m seeing people doing a really great job of not doing that,” said Smith.

Colleges & Remote Learning

Local colleges like North Central have also switched to remote learning for the remainder of the school year. They’ve provided their students with mental health resources to help adjust to the transition.

Tammy Wynard, an assistant professor for health science and the department chair of kinesiology at North Central College, says staff has been trying to connect with students on a personal level so they can best serve their needs during this time.

“I think the college is being really smart about understating the different environments that our students are going to,” said Wynard. “It could be based on family environment, their physical learning space, the maybe furloughed from a job, their family maybe furloughed from a job. And so how can we support the students and be the most flexible?”.

Wynard said professors have also been more relaxed with deadlines and assignments to help reduce any stress students may be going through during the alerted school year.

The health care experts agree that the pandemic can cause mental health issues, but there are resources and people who can help.

“I think sometimes we just speed, speed, speed through life and we don’t stop and say ‘how am I feeling about this right now?’ and the we burn out really quick,” said Wynard. “There’s people on campus and off campus in different communities to help if students are struggling and willing and ready to help so they can in the classroom to finish off the semester or other times as well.”

Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal reports.


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