Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Frankly, I’m Worried: How Well Are We Advising Schools Regarding Covid-19?

This is the cover of my forthcoming book from Columbia Teachers College Press. (www.tcpress.com/karen-gross for pre-orders). The cover could, with the current Coronavirus scare and real threat, work for this serious situation too: Coronavirus Doesn’t Stop at the School Door. Indeed, the book has the kind of suggestions that would help educators deal with the virus’ impact on students (apart from those who fall ill).

Here is what is worrying me. Our focus to date, best as I can tell from what I am reading, is on whether to close schools and how to do that. A recent article in Education Week by Mark Lieberman focused on the six steps for schools to take if the virus emerges in their neighborhood. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/02/how-to-respond-to-coronavirus-6-steps.html.

There is nothing at all wrong with the steps. It is what is missing from the steps that leaves me deeply concerned. Students are affected by the threat of the virus, the impact of a quarantine and the possibility of school closure. For some students, school is a much needed refuge from their dysfunctional home life. For other students, it is a place to be cherished where learning occurs. For other students, it is the place to share and engage with friends. For still other students, connections to the adults at school is critical to their wellbeing — a teacher, a coach, an administrator, a worker in the cafeteria, the school nurse, the school counselor.

All that goes away if a school closes — unless there is a robust online presence and that is no small trick to get the needed technology in place not just at the school but in the homes of the students. Some families do not have the technology or bandwidth to enable online learning (assuming it exists) or even one on one conferences with key professionals. Yes, it is doable but it must be done recognizing that the very students who may need the connectivity may be the least likely to have it.

In the suggestions given in Education Week and other publications, I am struck by how “sanitary” they are; they focus on how to contain the virus and related issues. I get that. They focus on the non-collective; non-gatherings are a strategy. But, who is focusing on the psychological impact of the virus on children — their fears, their concerns, their legitimate overexposure to its threat? And, when you eliminate schools and community gatherings that has an impact. For sure and for real.

As someone who write and deals with trauma in schools, this virus is traumatic for many students — whether or not the school is closed. We need to pay attention to how we talk to students about the virus — students of all ages and at all stages. We need to recognize what the virus conversations may trigger — past trauma, concerns about attachment and separation, anxiety about well-being of one’s family, the risks of quarantine. We need to determine how to remain connected to students even as a school or schools close.

Here are links to several of the pieces I have written, including strategies that teachers can use NOW to help students. Time is a wastin’ as the saying goes. We need to do way way more than wash our hands for 20 seconds with soap and alcohol. We need to recognize the potential traumatic impact the virus can have on children — and I don’t mean children who are ill. I mean all children.

And, let’s not forget the impact all of this has on those who work with students; they worry about their students, their own families, themselves. And, there is a strain when trying to deal with a trauma that impacts so so many.

Pretending there is NO virus or that it will be cured in a week or that it will go away in the near term are not helpful statements; we do way better to deal with the truth with calmness and thoughtfulness and with a recognition of the impact this virus is having even without being literally in our home.

Here are two of the pieces I have written to date. I think I will keep offering them in the hope that it will help some students in some schools in some regions across the US and the Globe.

Here’s my hope: if as and when the virus spreads (which seems like an inevitability), we can and will do more than deal with disease containment, as important as that is. We need to deal with the psychosocial impacts of the threat of the virus and school closings on children at all ages and stages. This requires understanding how the virus’ threat can be traumatizing and lead to trauma symptomology. And we need to be able to help students deal with their symptoms — not of the virus but of the trauma of the virus. They are not the same thing. And we need to be able to see those symptoms — recognize them, deal with them, ameliorate them.

Let’s start with this: the threat of a pandemic is traumatizing to many children. Then ask: how can we ameliorate this trauma. Soap and alcohol are NOT the answers. Of that I am completely sure.

The virus is NOT stopping at the school door. Period. Full stop. Now we have to address what that means and what we can do about it. Our children deserve nothing less.

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Karen Gross

Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor