What's the Plus?
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What's the Plus?

It’s Time to Move Childhood Trauma Legislation Forward in Mississippi

By Malissa Flowers

Jonathan, a 4-year-old, came to my preschool class in January 2020. He arrived to us needing services for developmental delays and speech, with behavioral challenges that were often disruptive. He hit his classmates and refused to share supplies and toys or engage in center activities. He frequently threw his shoes. My work to make him comfortable with his new class came to an abrupt halt when COVID-19 forced us into a virtual learning environment. Unfortunately, Jonathan couldn’t fully engage in virtual learning because his mother worked from home and had no support. After a few sessions, the novelty of the computer-based activities wore off for him and the lack of school structure and focus began to cause significant social regression.

When Jonathan returned to school in August 2020, he had a new teacher, new rules, and new expectations. Although he was academically proficient, nothing we did to get his behavior under control worked. Jonathan was again climbing on desks, hitting his classmates, and refusing to complete assignments. Neither positive reinforcement nor negative consequences brought about any change in his behavior. His new teacher simply did not have the training and resources to guide him to a safe and calm place, and to build his sense of social and emotional balance and well-being.

Jonathan is one of thousands of children in Mississippi who have been traumatized by the numerous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students and their families have experienced financial devastation, illness or death of family members, and displacement. Others have suffered from neglect and other emotional and physical abuse. For children like Jonathan, immediate help is essential. The state of Mississippi must mandate that this help be given in the form of strong, clear policies.

There are several important steps Mississippi policymakers can take in order to adequately respond to the crisis. First, state policymakers must ensure that teachers receive training on the Mississippi Department of Education’s (MDE) new social and emotional learning (SEL) standards. The state should also require that schools and districts submit plans for SEL professional development to the MDE. The department should assess these plans and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. Lastly, school districts must ensure that existing classroom teachers like me receive professional development and resources to help us identify and mitigate trauma before it becomes a crisis that impedes the positive progress of students like Jonathan.

The COVID-19 crisis has shed stark light on our students’ social emotional needs and is likely to continue to affect teacher and student success far into the future. Jonathan still struggles with behavioral challenges. He and his teacher are trying to navigate and adapt to constantly changing routines and procedures as our educational system works to adjust to the pandemic. We must do everything we can to address Jonathan’s social and emotional needs now and to chart a better path for him and students like him into the future.

Malissa Flowers teaches 3- and 4-year-old children with special needs at Beechwood Elementary School in Vicksburg, Mississippi. She is a 2020–21 Teach Plus Mississippi Policy Fellow.

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