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Academic Recovery and Mental Health

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed everything. As schools closed we all changed our pattern of work and play, family and home. Teachers can see the outcome of those changes in the parents and children who returned to our schools, especially in the gaps between higher and lower performing students. Although that gap might have seen a narrowing before the pandemic, it is now widening, and the importance of the relationship between a student’s academic recovery and that same student’s mental health is emerging.

Gaps are Widening

There has been very little movement in the trend lines for the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by American students, until this year.

This chart show us two trends downward. The first trend is that all students have fallen behind. The second trend is that our lowest performing students have fallen further behind. “There has been more impact over the last two years for those who are already struggling the most,” said Peggy G. Carr, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP (Sarah Schwartz, Sept. 2, 2022, in EdWeek ).

These results are the continuation of a trend in NAEP data—the gap between higher-performing and lower-performing students is getting wider. Just what is causing that is unclear, but there are some clues: Lower-performing students on the test were also less likely to report that they had support—like reliable internet access, or interaction with a teacher—than their higher-performing peers.

And just as the academic effects of the pandemic have been distributed unequally, so have the consequences for student mental health—a factor that greatly shapes children’s ability to learn and engage in school.

Over the course of the past two years, experts have stressed the intertwined nature of academic achievement and social-emotional support, and have argued that academic recovery efforts must also attend to students’ mental health and feelings of belonging in school.

Sarah Schwartz, Sept. 2, 2022, in EdWeek

Supporting Ongoing Mental Health Services in Schools

One of the takeaways from all of this is the need to re-double our focus on the mental health of all students and especially our lowest performers. Re-double our efforts is a reminder that we in schools have been aware of a trend in sadness by our students dating back to 2009:

Between 2009 and 2019, for example, the portion of respondents reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased from 26 percent to 37 percent.

Teen Mental Health During COVID: What New Federal Data Reveal

Belonging

Our sense of what to do now is to make sure that every student feels like they belong in our school. From the morning welcome by a head of school who knows every one of her students, to morning meeting where all are invited to participate, to classroom groupings, recess, lunch, arts and sports, we must show our students that they all matter to us everyday.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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