LEARNING CURVE: Addressing COVID mental health concerns before the school year begins

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The week before school starts is a time when emotions can run high for students. This year COVID-19 is causing a great deal of stress for many students.

A junior at Parkview High School says she is excited for the first day but nervous.

Ozarks First spoke with Gracyn Lloyd in 2020 about her freshman year.

“This online schooling is not the greatest for me,” Lloyd said. “I need to be in a classroom. I need to have a teacher right there.”

She got what she wanted, in moderation, when she became a sophomore. Now a junior, Lloyd will be in class five days a week.

“I’m excited just to be able to go back and see all my friends and have dance practice as normal and have golf as normal,” Lloyd said. “I’m super excited.”

When she isn’t playing a sport, she will have to wear a mask.

“I was really sad when they talked about ‘we have to wear masks,” Lloyd said. “But, I understand why they’re doing it with the spike in COVID cases. I have anxiety, so the masks make it worse. It’s just something on my face that’s in front of my mouth affecting my breathing. It’s weird because we have a full face of makeup on, and putting a mask on just smears everything.”

The director of counseling services at Springfield Public Schools, Dr. Alison Roffers, admits masking isn’t ideal for everyone.

“I think we can all agree it’s a stressful time, and it’s not what we would want for anyone,” Dr. Roffers said. “However, what we do want is safety for all. We want to protect the mental health needs of students, but we also want to protect the physical health of students, and those go hand-in-hand. Masking seems to be what needs to happen to keep everyone safe at this point.”

Along with getting the vaccine, which many students haven’t done yet or are not eligible for yet, Dr. Roffers says SPS’ counseling program teaches kids how to react in a situation where there might be a disagreement.

“It would be to listen with positive intent to one another,” Dr. Roffers said. “You can agree to disagree. Do what you need to do to feel safe for yourself, even if it means not being around that person. But really, it doesn’t change no matter what the topic is on how you handle conflict or how you should handle conflict. You should still be respectful of other people and do what you need to do to be safe and respectful to others and yourself.”

Dr. Roffers’ advice sometimes could mean being aware of how others are acting.

“If they notice that someone around them is not acting the way that they normally act, speak up for that person and be the voice for them to get help,” Dr. Roffers said. “Talking with an adult if they see a friend that is struggling.”

More resources will be available to students this year. The Foundation for Springfield Public Schools recently announced it will help the district fund teen mental health first aid to expand to all 10th graders.

“That has existed already in some of our high schools for the last two years, but now we will be able to expand that,” Dr. Roffers said.

SPS will also continue its close partnership with Burrell Behavioral Health, which helps bring school-based mental health services to every building. With help from the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, the district will add 15 more social workers this year. SPS also plans to expand its conscious discipline program from eight school buildings to 12. The program helps adults build positive relationships with students. SPS will continue to offer mental health training to its staff.

“We have a lot of exciting things in place to help continue support mental health,” Dr. Roffers said.

Leading up to the school year, Dr. Roffers wants parents and guardians to know how impactful their connection with their child is.

“The best thing they can do is make sure they are spending time talking with their children,” Dr. Roffers said. “Even if the child doesn’t talk back, just opening up space for conversations to occur helps. The beginning of the school year, even in a non-pandemic time, is stressful for everyone. There can be some high anxiety surrounding new buildings, new class schedules, new friends. Just allowing that space to let your children know that you’re there to listen and offer support if needed at any time is very meaningful.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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