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Resilience needs to be schools’ focus

A Pennsylvania House of Representatives joint committee hearing last Monday was an excellent venue for delving into the issue of increased mental health resources being in place for students when schools across the state reopen fully.

Judging from the progress on the coronavirus front, it is anticipated that reopening will be this fall, in much the same way that schools returned from summer vacations, pre-pandemic.

To be sure, a longer readjustment time might be necessary at the start of the coming school year before students and educators are settled in fully to classroom learning as it was before the virus turned lives and facilities of most kinds virtually upside down.

Since March 2020, schools either have been physically closed and providing remote learning, or offering hybrid-education, mixing at-home days with in-school instruction days.

However, it is not out of the question that a pleasant surprise could be awaiting the commonwealth’s public education scene, above and beyond the good intentions of those who gathered in the state capital for the past week’s joint committee session.

That is because young people are more resilient and adaptive to change, generally, than parents and other adults who have been “locked” in their lives’ situations for long stretches of years, even decades.

Once students return to full, in-person, pre-pandemic interaction with fellow students and teachers, it is reasonable to anticipate the fears and uncertainties that dogged them as the pandemic wore on will continue to become less of a presence in their lives.

Classroom work, homework, extracurricular activities and other positive “distractions” will relegate what happened over the past 18 months or so to the “universe” of things of little continuing consequence.

Nevertheless, students whose families experienced tragedy or other hardships at the hands of COVID-19 might face a longer period of readjustment and re-settling into the learning experience than most of their classmates.

Especially for those latter students, but for the other students as well, having adequate mental health resources in place to respond to needs, including on short notice, cannot be overemphasized.

And, even without the coronavirus, the daily pressures of life today can inflict degrees of pressure on young people that neither their grandparents nor parents had to experience or endure as young people.

That was the message from Dr. Sherri Smith, a Pennsylvania Department of Education official, who said “we know from our schools and families that more students are being reported as chronically absent, and more students report feeling disconnected from school staff.”

State Department of Human Services consulting psychologist Dr. Perri Rosen provided other cause for concern in referring to the stress, burnout and compassion fatigue “that have become a reality for teachers, support staff, board members, administrators, school mental health professionals and their family members.”

Provisions for their well-being need to be available as well. The proverbial shifting-of-gears in Pennsylvania’s educational community that likely will take place in just about three months must be watched closely. The joint House committee hearing helped pour the foundation for that vigilance to occur.

It is reasonable to conclude even now that resilience will help in the school year to come. The unknown is whether the resilience forthcoming will produce the kind of positive results that are being sought.

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