Educators across Maine expected an adjustment when students returned to school full time this year, with unfamiliar routines and the enduring pandemic. But now, they’re grappling with a rise in behavior challenges, which come as studies show depression and anxiety have doubled for children and teens since before the pandemic.
This week, three leading pediatric health organizations warned that the mental health crisis for kids has become a “national emergency.” And the U.S. Department of Education released a new report, declaring that it “has reached a critical point. The DOE called on schools to use extra pandemic funding to hire more support staff such as social workers and counselors and do away with punitive punishments like suspensions.
“We are seeing a lot more overall disruptive behavior, oppositional behavior in regard to listening and following rules,” said Brooke Proulx, a school social worker at Gorham Middle School. “It feels like a free for all, like, here it is all at once. And kids don’t have the skills to navigate it.”
The trend is happening across the country, and recent studies have linked mental health and behavioral issues to the chronic stress and trauma of the pandemic. Students have had to change the way they learn, from in person to virtual to hybrid to fully in person again, in a very short period of time. Some have experienced grief or financial insecurity. Plus, there has been tension and confusion around safety protocols. And it all impacts a student’s ability to learn.