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Class struggles: K-12 students experience more than low grades

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Students in a Houghton Middle School class wear masks while learning during a school day this past fall.

HANCOCK — The mental health of K-12 students as a result of COVID-19 pandemic measures continues to be a concern across the nation, as well as locally.

In a Feb. 12 email to parents of the Hancock School district, Superintendent Steve Patchin touched on just some of what students have struggled with since school closures were first enacted in March, 2020.

“As you know, our schools were asked to close to face-to-face learning beginning Monday, March 16, 2020,” stated Patchin. “Our students moved their instruction to distance learning. which took place for the last 55 days of the 2019-20 school year.”

This fall, he continued, grades K-12 were again asked to move to distance learning for two weeks, spanning the last week of September and the first week of October. The high school students were then asked to move to distance learning from Thanksgiving through Christmas, 22 days.

“This does not count the number of days of face-to-face instruction students have missed due to quarantining from being a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case or being diagnosed as a probable or positive case,” he added.

“We know that many students struggled with engaging in distance learning and with moving in and out of face-to-face learning,” he went on. “Currently, we are focusing on targeted interventions to help these students who are struggling. These interventions range from tutoring to extra support in the classroom. We are extremely proud of our education team’s efforts supporting our students’ learning through these interventions.”

Added to these issues, high school athletes have also suffered with prohibitions placed on sports, particularly in Michigan long after high school athletics were allowed to resume in neighboring states.

School closures were intended to keep students safe during the pandemic, stated Carolyn Jones in her edsource.org article, Student anxiety, depression increasing during school closures, survey finds, “but for many, it’s ushered in a different set of dangers: anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions.”

The article was published on May 13, 2020, just two months after school closures began occurring across the nation.

Last week, Michigan Superintendent of Education, Michael Rice, told legislators that for most children, in-person instruction is superior to education at a distance and given the pandemic, whether they were educated primarily at a distance or largely in person, most students will receive less instruction from March of last year through the end of this school year than in any similar period of their education.

Rice spoke to state legislators during a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee and the House Education Committee on Feb. 9.

In her May, 2020, article, Jones reported that increasing numbers of students say they feel overwhelmed, and not just about the health of their family and friends due to the coronavirus. Their parents might be newly unemployed, they might be falling behind academically, they can’t see their friends, or they might be trapped at home in an abusive family situation.

In speaking to the House Education Committee last Tues., Rice told the legislators that children’s social and emotional needs have received added attention during the pandemic. The Michigan Department of Education has begun a social and emotional learning (SEL)/children’s mental health network and allocated more than $7 million from its education equity fund for children’s mental health to local school districts. Governor Whitmer and the state legislature allocated a similar amount for related services as well. Local school districts have engaged in SEL work this year more than ever before. Professional development needs to be broadened and deepened, with more staffing of social workers, counselors, nurses, and school psychologists to serve children properly.

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