The issues affecting kids are not just COVID-19 and remote learning, but political unrest, social media, financial duress, and other interrelated issues.They are all coming together in a challenging 2020 that will put short and long-term burdens on kid’s mental health. Educators and teachers managing remote education for the year will need to consider adding tools and processes for addressing mental health, not just academic progress, and scores.

Remote learning poses challenges for all students and sheds light on the disparity problems along racial and income lines. Some districts are struggling to locate kids. For example, as of mid-July, there are more than 10,000 South Carolina students that districts have not been able to contact. Many children in poorer communities are more likely to experience homelessness or transient living arrangements that make it difficult to stay in touch with school districts.

According to data from McKinsey, black and Hispanic students are particularly impacted by COVID-19 in terms of their learning. This group experiences lower engagement rates, with just 60 to 70 percent of students logging in regularly for classes and assignments. They also see higher rates of “learning loss” during this time as well as increased drop-out rates in high school. While racial and economic disparities are not new to 2020, they are exacerbated by the various stressors of COVID-19 and the requirements of technology-based learning.

Improving Youth Lives with Social-Emotional Learning

Conducting remote learning is a daunting task for teachers and educators. Many are focused on the academic piece of fine-tuning classes, structuring Zoom classes, and figuring out grading in a remote learning world. However, this teaching and learning is still going on during an unprecedented crisis, one that impacts every child from K through 12th. More learning should focus on the entirety of the child, including their own self-image and feelings. Here is the opportunity for social and emotional learning (SEL) to shine. When it’s done properly, SEL helps children to better manage their emotions, create positive relationships, establish goals, and relieve some of the stress from their upended daily lives. It provides teachers and staff with insights that are difficult to uncover through impersonal remote learning alone.

Finding the Right SEL Partner

SEL platforms provide opportunities for educators to learn and care more for their student populations. Top-tier platforms, such as that offered by BASE Education feature fully online mechanics, with both course delivery and receipt happening through a secure portal, unlike some SEL providers that offer courses online but intake responses on paper or other unconnected methods. Top SEL providers will feature real-time progress monitoring, so educators and counselors can see any harmful language or concerning topics immediately.

Here are some tips and criteria for selecting an SEL course provider:

  • Choose a provider with multiple courses that dive deeper into how kids are feeling. Armed with this context, educators can then better advise students and solve problems.
  • SEL courses should follow certain dialectical frameworks because the phrasing of questions matters. Adults should review each question before publication to ensure they are prompting students with therapeutic dialogues.
  • SEL courses should follow a “stair-step” approach to improve kids’ stress levels. This begins with introductory courses that gives teachers a baseline for “this is who I am”, so they understand a student’s motivation level and can meet them appropriately. Then the courses should go deeper into the various life changes happening and assessing the student’s coping and resiliency skills. Next are SEL courses that ask students how specifically they are handling stressors, with direct questions talking about anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

A clinically proven and structured SEL approach gives educators and teachers insights into the students who need immediate assistance, as well as those who might require more check-ins over the course of the remote learning period.

The usage of an SEL platform should be up to the individual student. Kids first take a “welcome course” that details how the program works, as well as clear disclosure statements the students must accept to move forward. Educators need to fully understand these disclosures and be able to discuss details with students as necessary. The disclosures state the system is recording everything the student writes, even content they write and delete before submittal. Information is kept in strict confidence, with certain exceptions for instances where the user threatens to hurt someone or themselves. It is a similar requirement with therapists who are required to report abusive living situations, potential suicidal thoughts or attempts, and similar issues.

Mental Health Struggles

Quarantine conditions are pushing kids towards electronic screens, both for online learning as well as video games, social media, and the internet. Social media is driving feelings of isolation, instances of cyberbullying and inundating youth with messages about the pandemic. Separation from physical contact and interaction is another factor pushing youth towards depression and isolated feelings. According to an article from Medscape titled “COVID-19 and the ‘Echo Pandemic’ of Suicide and Mental Illness,” youth populations are headed towards spiking rates of mental illness and suicide. It offered the need for social services, counseling, and other programs to head off a potential epidemic. Kids are also under stress due to the political discord in the country, including increased tribalism and political disagreement. This creates a further disparity among kids (and their parents) who differ on their political views and adds an additional issue impacting their mental health and ability to learn.

SEL courses play a direct role in improving mental health outcomes, preventing suicides, and stopping violent incidents such as school shootings. Platforms with monitoring and keyword-based alerts can give educators and counselors enough warning about at-risk students to offer interventions and guidance. Top-tier SEL programs have demonstrated success at stopping impending suicide attempts, as well as improving overall mental wellness and self-esteem marks. This directness is a hallmark of effective SEL programs—the questions do not dance around issues but confront them head-on with relatable and edgy content.

Success with SEL programs requires a top-down approach with full committed leadership support. The most successful implementations are those that are part of a wellness culture, not the district simply “box-checking.” Used properly, these programs provide districts with in-depth data to help students manage 2020 on multiple fronts.