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Chamber discusses effect of pandemic on students

Students in Blair County have been stretched to never-before-seen limits by the challenges of COVID-19, and have experienced hybrid learning, virtual leaving and in-person learning during the pandemic, a local educator said.

“The pandemic has had an impact on our lives and jobs — both kids and adults. Many of us have been affected by the pandemic,” Hollidaysburg Area School District Superintendent Robert Gildea told members of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club on Thursday at The Casino at Lakemont Park.

“It was a definite adverse experience for a lot of kids and adults,” Gildea said. Going to virtual learning — when students had to work from home — was stressful for students.

“There are some toxic environments out there, such as kids living in homes with drug abuse; their only escape is to go to school. When we went virtual, kids had no escape and it had a real impact,” Gildea said.

“It was harder to connect with students. We had to get devices to the students and get them home. Some kids we couldn’t keep engaged in their lessons, some didn’t have the focus at home,” he said.

Dana Melton, a family therapist with Soar for Life, cited a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as emotional, physical and sexual abuse, neglect and household challenges, which had a great impact on students.

“Things like chronic illnesses are compounded if a person had adverse childhood experiences,” she said.

“With the ACES study, we saw social isolation, increased neglect. Parents had so much stress working full time, some children were left at home alone, Melton said. “We had highly educated people leaving 9- to 10-year-olds at home because they had to go to work. This also led to more abuse and domestic violence and an increase in use of drugs and alcohol,” Melton said. “Adverse childhood experiences affected kids’ lives. We had continual change and uncertainty. That’s what everyone was experiencing.”

Melton said going through the pandemic will have a future impact on businesses.

“Children are our future workforce. What happened in 2020 will affect us in 15-20 years,” Melton said.

Fortunately there is help available for the students.

“In Blair County, we are fortunate that we have numerous community resources available,” Melton said.

“We have guidance counselors in each school. If any student is experiencing a problem, a team is put together to work with the child,” Gildea said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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