A Reopening Strategy

A Reopening Strategy

Resources to support students’ physical and mental health needs

As schools begin to welcome students back in full force, there is increased attention on learners’ physical and mental wellbeing. Since the latest round of COVID-19 relief funding includes dollars for in-school healthcare services, district leaders are encouraged to take this as an opportunity to revamp and strengthen existing student health programs.

For many families, school is more than a place to learn. It is also a place to receive access to healthcare, counseling, nutrition and other essential services. A continuous, sustainable approach to school healthcare services can ensure that the physical and mental health needs of students are being met—and also that school staThmembers are equipped to provide adequate support.

Here are some strategies for meeting students’ physical and mental health needs as they return to school.

Strategies for Supporting Students’ Physical Health Needs
District leaders will need to consider how they currently support the physical health of students, and if there are updates are needed before fully reopening.

Ensuring Compliance with CDC and Local COVID-19 Guidelines
In the CDC’s COVID-19 K-12 Operational Strategy guidance, ffve key prevention strategies are listed to help prevent the transmission of the virus, including:

  • Universal and correct use of masks
  • Social distancing
  • Handwashing and respiratory etiquette
  • Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities
  • Contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine

To safely resume operations, I strongly recommend that district leaders look at their existing processes and make updates as needed. For example, establish social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines with staThand students, and keep an inventory of essential supplies (like face masks) on hand at each school site.

Providing In-school Telehealth Care to All Students
While telehealth has been around for many years, its popularity is skyrocketing due to the pandemic. Telehealth is the marriage of technology and healthcare, using a wide variety of technology and electronic communications to promote remote health-related services. Telehealth companies can partner with schools to provide in-school and in-home telehealth care services to all students.

In addition to assessing symptoms related to COVID-19, telehealth providers are able to address common health concerns, like stomachaches or allergy symptoms, and to create a care plan tailored to students’ speciffc needs. Having telehealth providers available to support the work of school nurses and other staThmembers can help districts address a wider range of student health concerns and reduce absenteeism.

Educating Families about the COVID-19 Vaccine
The COVID-19 vaccine is an important piece of the school reopening puzzle. With efforts to vaccinate educators continuing, a recent trial showing 100% vaccine efficacy in children ages 12–15, district leaders must work proactively to quell vaccine hesitancy.

The CDC compiled a COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit for School Staff& Childcare Workers that may be used to support communications with teachers and other staffmembers. In addition to this, I recommend that district leaders find a way to provide vaccine guidance and support to families, especially those in underserved communities.

Strategies for Supporting Students’ Mental Health Needs
One of the most important considerations during this crisis and its aftermath is the mental wellbeing of students, staffand the community at large. The mental and emotional toll this crisis has taken on people is immense and will be felt for months, and years to come. Many students were in very vulnerable positions before this crisis hit. That has worsened. Social determinants of health have changed drastically, and situations are worse for many families than they were even just a few months ago.

With this in mind, district leaders and teachers must prepare for increased stress, anxiety and trauma and be ready to support students’ mental health needs.

Expanding Existing Mental and Behavioral Health Services to Accommodate More Students
School counselors were already outnumbered pre-COVID, with an average student-to-counselor ratio of 430:1. Just as they are able to support the work of school nurses, telehealth providers can also support the work of school counselors, case workers and other staff. During a telehealth appointment, students can share their feelings and symptoms with a provider, who can then collaborate with the child and their family to create an action plan.

Providing Mental Health Support to Staff
To effectively meet the mental health needs of students, district staff members need support, too. In “Resources to Support Mental Health and Learning during School Reopening”, the National Education Association (NEA) provides actionable strategies and resources for ensuring the wellbeing of staff, students and families. Applying Social-emotional Learning (SEL) Strategies Throughout Education

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) recommends that district leaders make SEL an integral part of every student’s education. CASEL compiled a list of COVID-19 SEL resources, which includes recommendations such as:

  • Providing consistency in daily routines to foster a sense of safety and predictability.
  • Taking the time to listen to students.
  • Supporting students in building or maintaining a sense of community and connection.

Keeping Every Student Healthy
Whether you are an administrator, a teacher, a counselor or a nurse, you play an important role in keeping students well. By offering physical and mental health resources in school, we can help more students receive the care they need so they can focus on learning.

With the support of district leadership and increased funding, there is an opportunity to reinvent school health and wellness services and to make a real, positive impact in the lives of students and their families.

This article originally appeared in the September / October 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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