Depending on where you live, school is about to start or may have already begun. The 2020-2021 academic year will likely be a very different experience from previous school years. Whether virtually or in-person learning, here are a few tips that may ease the transition of going back to school during a pandemic:
• Keep a schedule. All of us (especially kids) generally do well with structure and having a clear understanding of what to expect. This includes having set times to go to sleep and wake up, designated study sessions, and time allotted for physical exercise, extracurricular activities, and socialization. It is also important to include breaks within a schedule. Maintaining a routine can help reduce stress levels during times when stress is already heightened.
• Designate a study area that has minimal distractions. Whether academics are taking place online or in-person, securing a quiet area at home to do work, prepare for tests/examinations, and complete assignments is important.
• Establish a transparent communication system among important people. Develop a list of critical contacts that is readily available. This list may include teachers/professors, medical professionals, transportation offices, school administrators, and other supports such as counselors and social workers. Often school mental health providers can be valuable resources and help connect students and families to other essential supports.
• Assess your situation when it comes to technology. If you are lucky enough to have equipment and a reliable Internet connection, test areas of the home to determine where Wifi works optimally. Find a quiet area where disruptions will be limited; you can also investigate if the Wifi works outside (if that is a feasible and safe option). Take into consideration that multiple parties may all be using the Wifi signal at the same time, which could slow Internet speeds. If you do not have the necessary equipment to easily engage in remote learning, contact the school or local district to see if there are ways they can provide assistance. You can also contact the Department of Education in your state to inquire about resources that may be available. If you or your family is in need of financial assistance for Internet services, Lifeline is a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission. Lifeline provides affordable services [including internet connection] to consumers who qualify.
• If your child is experiencing anxiety, acknowledge those feelings by listening and validating what your child is saying. If you have concerns about your child’s mental health and don’t know how to best provide support, reach out to those who can help. That might be medical providers, school administrators, teachers, or coaches. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, even scary to discuss mental health but keep in mind that safety is primary. During these challenging times experiencing emotional distress has increased and is not uncommon. Remember that if an individual is struggling it is always best to get help as soon as possible. For additional resources, visit the Mental Health Missions’ resource webpage.
• Maintain connection. Whether it is daycare, elementary, high school, or university, transitioning back to school can be stressful during the best of times. In the middle of a pandemic there are many layers of additional stress and maintaining connections with others during this time is crucial. This is true for students, parents, and those who are working in academic institutions. No matter what your role is, everyone is navigating uncharted territory and being able to engage with others is important. If you are unsure about how to establish meaningful supports, check with your school, district, or local community center about current activities, social groups, and clubs. It is likely that many available opportunities will be virtual and several may be low-cost or even free.
• Develop a viable Plan B. During times of uncertainty, nothing can be guaranteed. With the potential for things to change suddenly, having an established master plan and being flexible is important. This may include making alternative arrangements ahead of time should there be a need to quarantine because of possible exposure to the virus. Also make sure to have the names and contact information available for those whom it will be necessary to correspond with in the event Plan B goes into effect. This list might include teachers, administrators, other students and parents, as well as medical professionals.
• Identify healthy ways to outlet frustration and anger. When things don’t go as planned, we can become discouraged and even feel defeated. The unknown almost always will throw us a curveball. Establishing ways to manage difficult emotions can prevent those situations from becoming more severe. Find things that work for you during times of tumult. Some ideas might include exercising/physical activity, jotting down your feelings in a journal, working on an art project, listening to music, deep breathing, and meditation.
• Garner and exercise empathy for others including parents, teachers, students, administrators, and school staff. This is a difficult time and most people are doing their best amid very challenging circumstances. Practicing patience and compassion toward others can be advantageous for your own mental health and well-being.
• Continue to wash those hands!
For additional information about returning to school during Covid-19 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips and advice for students, families, and school personnel.
Almost everyone has needed to make adjustments and modifications during this difficult time. Change can be hard but keep in mind that educational institutions are working tirelessly to harness a safe and constructive learning environment for all.
Have a wonderful and safe school year!