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Opinion | Mental wellness is key to a successful school year during COVID-19

I am a mother, executive director, and public school board member (of Birmingham Public Schools in Oakland County) and the only reason this matters, is because the last several months have been challenging for me in every aspect of these roles! 

The effects of COVID-19 have created both obstacles and opportunities for us all. This coupled with a fragile civil and political climate, self-care has become particularly important to keep things in perspective.

As someone who has personally experienced my own family tragedy with mental illness, (something I’ve written about and advocated for), I understand the importance of mental health, and its role in plans for the upcoming school year.

No matter what your economic status, zip code, or political affiliation, mental well-being will be key to surviving this pandemic!

So, as I prepare to discuss with my fellow school board members whether students should return to school in the fall, fully on-line or by face-to-face instruction (or somewhere in between), I plan  to do my homework and process feedback from parent surveys and committee meetings. I will also monitor the plans of neighboring districts. However, with so many factors and scenarios to consider, there doesn’t seem to be a clear plan where everyone wins, without putting students at risk (mentally or physically)!

I must state for the record, my personal preference is to have students in school five days a week, however, I don’t know how in good conscience to make that happen.

Research shows that online learning is not effective for K-8 students, and socialization with peers is important to the school experience, particularly for middle and high school-aged students. As a mother of a middle school child, it has been heart-wrenching to watch my otherwise honor roll student, disengage with online learning and grapple with the thought of not returning to sports next school year.

On the other hand, I also worry about the vulnerable children who have basic needs that aren’t being met at home, like the children in my program at Friends of the Children-Detroit who rely on schools to provide a safe haven to meet those needs, as well as the consistency they provide. 

Then there’s also the children in the middle. I’m referring to the ones whose parents have to return to work and are worried about how they will sustain their households, while also trying to support their children academically on-line if face-to-face is not possible (especially if they have special needs). All of this to consider and then we still have to factor in the teachers, an essential piece to this unique puzzle! The teachers, who themselves have children of their own that need to learn, possibly from home.

It's exhausting to think about and I know everyone is trying to make a decision that’s in the best interest of our children. I can only hope that whatever decision we make will minimize the damage it will cause.

If children truly are our future, now is our chance to teach them resilience and provide them skills to cope, so that they can thrive once this crisis is over.   

Meanwhile, in addition to math, science, language arts and all the other courses that matter, let’s add in a healthy dose of support for mental wellness as well as some leniency, if or when students fall short of conventional expectations during these unprecedented times.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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