With the fall semester beginning for many students around the U.S., students are experiencing the reality of attending school during a pandemic. Some schools have chosen to return to the classroom with precautions in place, while other schools have opted for online learning until further notice.
These changes to the academic experience have had a direct effect on students, leading to some pretty extreme lifestyle changes both in and out of learning time. Here are some ways students’ lifestyles have changed due to COVID-19, and how you can help them cope with the reality of these changes:
Wearing a Mask
The Lifestyle Change: For students who will be physically attending school this fall, face masks or cloth face coverings are highly recommended by the CDC to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. There are a variety of reasons a face covering may cause issues for some students, including student age, anxiety disorders, physical conditions like asthma, and more.
How to Support Students: To reduce negative reactions to face mask wearing, parents and teachers have to work together to help children feel more comfortable. Ease children into the idea of wearing a face covering by asking them to wear a mask for short periods of time at home before the school year begins. Let students who continue to be wary of masks choose their own design or give them style and material options to ensure maximum comfort. For older students, offering scientific evidence and reasoning for wearing a face covering can help communicate the seriousness of mask wearing. And finally, if a student is consistently reacting negatively to wearing a face covering, consider accepting this reaction and excluding this child from the mask-wearing requirement, pending the input of a health professional.
Socializing with Friends Digitally
The Lifestyle Change: Students who are returning to the classroom will be kept at a distance from their friends during the school day, many being confined in social pods to lower the risk of an outbreak. Families will also be encouraged to keep their kids from interacting face-to-face in order to minimize contact and potential spread of COVID-19. For students learning remotely, a day of independent online learning will lead into a night spent at home with family, as parents of online students are also being asked not to organize social gatherings.
How to Support Students: During this time, there is a high risk for students to become socially isolated, leading to loneliness, loss of motivation, and other emotional and mental health concerns. To avoid this, it’s important to encourage students to continue to socialize with their peers in a variety of digital ways. As an educator, you can help students stay connected through online clubs or extracurricular meetings. It can also be useful to work socialization into your virtual check-in meetings with your class or on discussion boards. Give students daily or weekly prompts to promote social discussion with peers to ensure students stay engaged, connected, and building important SEL skills.
The Lifestyle Change: Whether students are physically back in the classroom or not, most students are learning online in some capacity in order to minimize classroom time and contact while also staying prepared for any future COVID-related school closings. Not every student is going to thrive during online learning––some students are easily distracted on personal devices, some students struggle to read, some students don’t have access to a personal device or internet, and some students have disabilities that create obstacles to online learning.
How to Support Students: You can help students adjust to digital learning in a variety of ways, but one of the most important considerations you can make is to be flexible and forgiving when it comes to online meetings and assignments. Students are experiencing unique struggles, and may need more time to complete work, reminders to participate in discussions, or leniency when they complete assignments incorrectly. Offer options for assignment completion, empowering students to make their own decisions and participate in online learning in the ways they feel most confident. Give students multiple ways to communicate with you, whether during your office hours, over video chat, or through your school’s LMS. And finally, always consider your students’ varying life experiences––including family and home life, disabilities, and mental health struggles––when assigning and grading online work.
With students experiencing significant changes in their lives both academically and personally, it’s important to offer them the support they need to adjust and learn successfully this fall. These systems of support can keep students learning and social even in the midst of a stressful and unusual time.
For students in need of direct mental health support, LearnWell’s team of independent clinicians offer support and counseling services for patients with common diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders in partnership with mental health facilities and K-12 educators.