AUSTIN (KXAN) — As 81,000 Austin ISD students spend their school days learning from home, district leaders said supporting their mental health needs is their first priority.
The learning comes second.
AISD Social and Emotional Learning Director Pete Price and AISD Threat Assessment Crisis Response Coordinator Alexandra Copeland are leading the effort to help students remotely. Below is a Q&A with both
TOM MILLER: What services are you still able to offer virtually where before you were doing it in person?
ALEXANDRA COPELAND: We’re still doing our telehealth services, that’s our virtual care for kids, so right now they’re able to see students as well as staff and families. They’re waiving all copays right now. They’re able to provide coronavirus screening as well as testing to everybody from the comfort of their homes.
TOM MILLER: How important is the social element of going to school and seeing your classmates and teachers in person, and are there worries that this doesn’t quite replicate that?
PETE PRICE: There’s no question that the social component of education is paramount, and students love coming to school to see their friends, they love seeing their teachers, and also teachers love seeing their students. This is very challenging to make connections online, but we’ve seen lots of creativity: we’ve seen students connecting on Zoom, like we’re doing now; we see all types of uses of technology to connect. But it’s hard. There’s nothing like seeing your friends in person and giving them a hug or a high five, so to replicate that is very challenging.
TOM MILLER: Are you worried about new problems popping up at home?
COPELAND: We’re in this crisis time and it can be challenging for people’s mental health and emotionally, there’s kind of that social isolation piece. If there was a kind of lack of support at home already, that can affect them. A lot of times we do see domestic violence increase at this point in time, we’ll see suicidal ideation increase at this point in time and a lot of other mental health-related stressors.
TOM MILLER: How should parents and guardians talk with kids about what’s going on?
PRICE: We always recommend to use age-appropriate language with every grade level, so the little ones don’t need as much information as possibly middle schoolers or high schoolers. It’s important that families provide information that is age-appropriate, and would provide a sense of security and solace for their children.
TOM MILLER: Are school counselors still meeting with kids and their families?
COPELAND: The counselors are still working — if anything, they’re working overtime right now to make sure that they’re connecting with the students, calling home, doing virtual meetings, making sure that everybody has the support that we need. Our biggest mission right now is not just supporting during this crisis, but preventing any additional crisis from happening at home, so we are doing those check-ins to make sure that families and students are taken care of right now.
TOM MILLER: What else should folks be doing to support their kids?
PRICE: Ask their children, ‘How are you feeling about today? What went well? What didn’t go so well? What can we do differently tomorrow?’ This is all an experiment, so we want to encourage caregivers to talk to their children and hear their feelings and hear their ideas to give them a greater sense of control and safety.