Educators around Virginia are just starting to get a full accounting of what was lost academically during the 2020-21 school year and how much material they’ll need to help students make up in the classroom.
But educators in Manassas are also trying to find out what else students have lost out on as they return to full in-person learning.
Manassas City Public Schools staff expect there will be more of a need for support for students than before the pandemic – and not just in terms of academic performance and learning loss. They’re trying to reach out to students who might not instinctively turn to school resources for social or emotional well-being.
The division sent a survey to every family, asking about what kinds of social, emotional and academic support might be needed in the schools. So far, the system has received over 800 responses, and once they are done collecting them, school leaders will develop plans at both the schoolwide and individual levels.
Eric Brent, director of student services for the city schools, told InsideNoVa that it was the first time the division had distributed a survey like that, part of its recognition that the return to the classroom will be more difficult for some than others.
“Of course there will be difficulty in terms of anyone having to go through a year of a pandemic. And when you have those things, you read in the news that last year depression was up, suicide was up, calls to [child protective services] were down. And that information alone tells you that you’re going to encounter a few things when you return to school,” Brent said.
Before the pandemic, school staff were the single biggest source of calls to child protective services in the state, but when schools closed the number of calls fell precipitously and remained relatively low in many places. Social services workers in the area said they were concerned that the reopening of schools could bring a wave of protective service needs, with children finally back in front of educators who might have a sense of whether something is going on at home.
Before the first day earlier this month in Manassas, the division brought in social services professionals from Prince William and Fairfax counties, as well as from Manassas, for a symposium that Brent said was aimed at helping school staff identify signs that something might be amiss with a child.
One of the topics was “Trauma Exposed: What children experienced while home.”
“We did have members from the city come … to share some of the things that may be out there, some things we need to look for,” Brent said.
So far, it’s too early to know what the results from the division’s survey or an increased eye on children may show, but the division has a new online collection of materials available to students about everything from ADHD to alcoholism and depression.
The program, available under a contract with Cengage’s Gale company for their Cameron Collection, can help students who might not otherwise feel comfortable sharing with a teacher, social worker or other school staff. It can also direct students to additional in-person resources if needed. Division staff will also give students social and emotional learning programming focusing on five concepts: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making.
“There are some students that feel very comfortable coming to us to get support or assistance, and there are some students who may be hesitant to come to someone to share,” Brent said. “The collection allows them to go to this resource to look up a certain topic, to learn a little about it and steps to see how they can get some support. … We want to make sure our support staff, as well as our instructional staff are aware of it, make sure the parents are aware of it and the students.”