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Story by Katy Ibsen
Photography by Michael J. Clarke
The COVID-19 pandemic posed many educational challenges, and Assistant Professor of Psychology and parent David Langer saw them firsthand. “Remote kindergarten,” he says. “That’s pretty hard.”
Like most American families with school-age children, Langer and his twin 6-year-olds spent much of the past school year on Zoom. “Their teachers were wonderful and super-engaged,” Langer says. “But remote learning is not a complete replacement of in person learning for younger kids. And they’re certainly not able to go through assignments independently!”
As students return to in-person learning this fall, focusing on mental health should not be neglected and should be as important as academics, says Langer.
“The pandemic has highlighted our children’s mental health needs in a way that perhaps they weren’t noticed before,” he says.
While schools worked hard to maintain academic standards during remote learning, the social separation had a real impact on many students’ well-being. Teachers had fewer opportunities to observe students and get a sense of how they were doing, Langer points out. Also missing were the countless “intentional and accidental interactions between students,” he says. “That type of socialization is very important at all ages.”
The result? Although some children are fine, others who had never struggled are dealing with new forms of stress, says Langer. “And kids who already were working to manage their anxiety, mood, or attention are sometimes having a harder time of it.”
Because stress affects everyone differently, it can be difficult to identify the needs of children and get them appropriate care, especially in families with limited resources. Langer emphasizes that schools are responsible for ensuring that every child can fully access the curriculum—and that includes children who are experiencing emotional, social, or behavioral issues.
“I hope that, though there is significant work to do, we can expand access to high quality mental healthcare for all our nation’s youth,” he says. “The increased recognition of the importance of mental health that the pandemic has brought can help us devote the needed resources to move forward in addressing their needs.”