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Gabriela Dieguez is a clinical social worker and Dr. Francisco Enriquez is a pediatrician, both working on Milwaukee’s South Side.
The past weeks at the office have been extremely busy. Conversations from the exam and counseling rooms with clients, as well as the corridors with coworkers are the same.
Parents and children are struggling with the demands of online schooling, the social isolation and uncertainty.
The levels of stress are increasing significantly for students. Parents complain that their children are having frequent meltdowns. Children are complaining of chest pain, abdominal pain, insomnia, etc. Some are able to verbalize that they don’t like being in front of the computer all day and that they miss socializing with their peers and with other adults.
The levels of stress are increasing also for parents. A mother of four needs to supervise her school-aged children and, if some of them are young, even attend their classes online. During the online school day, she needs to log onto four different sites, each with a different password for each child. After the online school day, she supervises her children’s homework. Additionally, she needs to do all the normal chores of being a parent.
Many parents are reaching their emotional limit.
The current situation is not sustainable. It creates conditions that result in anxiety and other behavioral health issues as well as physical problems. These can lead to an increased number of visits to primary health providers, to counselors and to the emergency department. In extreme cases, it can lead to severe outcomes such as suicide.
As a society we need to adjust to this new reality. We need to change our expectations of what can be realistically accomplished with online schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to use our resources as schools, as families and as communities to nurture what is most important to maintain emotional and social stability, and we need to start with families with school-aged children.
The expectation that the school-year curriculum can be completed under the current circumstances is not realistic. It adds substantial stress in parents who may already be worried about unemployment, paying the rent, health care coverage, the risk of illness and supporting other relatives who may be affected by the pandemic.
We need to accept that, in many cases, the “normal” academic goals will not be reached this year. And that is OK given the unsettling circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This approach does not mean that we give up. Instead, just as the human body adjusts and focuses blood flow to the vital organs during times of severe stress or crisis, we will focus on the well-being of our students, their parents and our community.
We need to nurture what makes us whole and balanced.
We propose a new approach to our goals for our school-aged children for this year. Some of the elements for a curriculum change would be:
- Emphasis on mental/behavioral health: students and parents should have a daily period of time for a guided meditation, a yoga class, or any type of activity that will help address anxiety.
- A daily period of physical activity that is guided by a teacher or anyone qualified in the school system.
- Nature activities. A daily period of time for exploration of nature, or being in nature with awareness or a research project that allows for families to get outside of the home, even if for a short period of time, as long as the appropriate gear is used to stay safe from COVID-19 and appropriate for weather conditions.
- A focus on writing, reading and math skills that will allow students to maintain a level of proficiency that will be the basis of their learning when we can finally go back to regular schooling.
- Guided discussions about current events and discussions about how to do internet searches, to fact check information found on the internet and to look for opposing points of view on current issues, etc.