We have experienced a significant period of time that has been extremely difficult for students who have struggled to continue online school. For many students it has been difficult to stay engaged and consistent while doing school virtually. Loss of learning deficits are prominent. Many students have lost connections to their school, their teachers, their counselors and their peers. There have also been record numbers of students identified with several forms of anxiety disorder, drug use, depression and related mental health concerns.
For schools there have been significant demands on staff and administrators. The mandates for health and safety plans have created a radical change in policies and procedures for cleaning buildings, bathrooms, technology, buses. This has added a great deal of staff needs and expense. Teachers have struggled with the online format as well. It is very different from live classroom experiences and so much harder to keep students engaged. The loss of relationship for them is also significant.
All the while both teachers and students have had to worry about the impact of COVID-19 physically. There has been an ominous sense of contagion that has left most of us very hypervigilant about catching this virus which has caused death and serious physical consequences to so many people globally. We are beginning to feel the impact of teachers not wanting to continue in the profession in the same way they used to. We have yet to have a gauge on how many students will refuse to attend school in the year to come.
At Lakeside we have seen a significant loss in students who are referred to us from school districts. This is not because students do not have needs to be in a program like ours but more because they are not in school and are not in a place where their needs have been identified. Most students who could and should have been in a specific placement have not been and likely their deficits have become worse. Most probably few, except maybe their parents, have any knowledge of their needs.
Perhaps another consequence of COVID-19 for students in that they have been overlooked and are falling through the cracks that have widened due to all the issues created by this pandemic. Typically, Lakeside’s school programs are already beginning to fill up for the year to come but this year that has not been the case.
I’m sure this is a national trend. As we reopen our schools it will be incumbent upon parents and school staff to put on a lens for students who have quietly struggled to cope with all that has happened to them. We as a community of educators have no idea how difficult it has been for students with special needs and we will have to find ways to respond to get them the help they need. We will need additional funds, staff support and programs that can meet these needs all over our country if we are going to recover and heal from the impact of COVID-19.
I hope all of our communities will be proactive to help our students by identifying their needs and finding the right supports for their lives so they can grow and develop normally.