CARIBOU, Maine — As Maine counties look to higher deal with declining psychological well being, social employees at one Aroostook college are placing themselves in school rooms for the primary time to assist children address feelings earlier than they attain a disaster.
Regional Faculty Unit 39 — which incorporates the communities of Caribou and Stockholm — eradicated its college useful resource officer over the summer time and added a social employee at Caribou Group Faculty, which serves greater than 750 prekindergarten to eighth-grade college students. District leaders needed to prioritize psychological well being as a result of the pandemic had elevated isolation, anxiousness, melancholy and bullying amongst college students.
This comes because the state has launched the most recent information on center college pupil psychological well being, which present much more children are feeling depressed or considering suicide statewide.
After the extra social employee, Tanya Stubbs, got here on board this fall, Caribou college leaders determined to attempt one thing new. The Group Faculty’s three social employees are every assigned to 3 grades, whose school rooms they go to repeatedly for age-based classes on psychological well being.
That strategy differs from the extra conventional apply of assembly with college students individually whereas they type by way of psychological well being challenges.
Although it’s nonetheless early for the district to know the change’s long-term impacts, the social employees have seen nice advantages from the brand new construction.
“Most of our work [before and during COVID] was offering assist to college students and households throughout a disaster,” mentioned Pam Giberson, a social employee who works with second-, fifth- and eighth-grade college students. “Now we’re in a position to be extra proactive as an alternative of simply reactive.”
Because the early days of COVID-19, extra college students have handled social and emotional points that negatively have an effect on their capability to be taught at college, Giberson mentioned. Many youthful college students who skilled much less in-person studying through the pandemic battle with advanced feelings, like anger or disappointment, at college.
A few of these feelings stem from points that college students see their members of the family coping with, like poverty, meals insecurity, home violence or substance use dysfunction. Unchecked feelings have led to elevated behavioral points amongst college students, akin to hiding beneath a desk or bodily aggression.
Center-school college students face even higher challenges coping with feelings and peer conflicts, largely because of social media and extra time spent away from classmates throughout COVID-19.
“I discover that college students battle with the ins and outs of communication. They’ve 24/7 entry to friends, but it surely’s tough to navigate conflicts,” Giberson mentioned. “They’ll determine their primary feelings, but it surely’s more durable to grasp why they or others really feel that means.”
Within the new proactive strategy to their work, Giberson and colleagues go to school rooms — month-to-month in kindergarten to sixth grade, weekly in seventh and eighth grades — and train age-based classes on coping with advanced social and emotional points.
Stubbs, who works with first-, fourth- and seventh-graders, mentioned that hers and colleagues’ classes for youthful college students have centered on problems with “tattling versus telling,” processing feelings, contemplating the emotions of others and being grateful.
With middle-schoolers, the dialog usually shifts towards psychological well being subjects like shallowness and confidence, discussing feelings and selecting phrases and actions correctly whereas speaking with others.
Essentially the most profitable classes have come when college students have talked brazenly about their errors, Stubbs mentioned.
“In seventh grade, we’ve had lots of ‘on the fly’ conversations. If a pupil says one thing impolite to a different, we’ll cease [the lesson] and ask everybody how we are able to deal with issues higher,” Stubbs mentioned. “It’s not about shaming the scholars. It’s a teachable second.”
In a course of referred to as “classroom looping,” the social employees at Caribou Group Faculty will proceed working with those self same college students on their psychological well being as they transfer up a grade yearly. When the present eighth-graders transfer on to highschool subsequent yr, Giberson will tackle the incoming kindergarten group.
Although RSU 39 academics have completed looping previously, this yr is the primary time social employees have labored with college students of their school rooms as an alternative of solely assembly with them privately.
“It has helped us get to know all these children extra as an alternative of simply specializing in sure children and labeling them as ‘totally different,’” Stubbs mentioned. “They’re extra apt to speak to us now, not simply when there’s an enormous problem.”
These advantages haven’t eradicated different challenges, together with a scarcity of psychological well being suppliers for households and faculty social employees’ restricted assets to take care of points that suppliers are extra ready for.
However many mother and father are already seeing the advantages of addressing psychological well being extra proactively in class, Caribou Group Faculty Principal Lee Caron mentioned.
“After we began [classroom looping], we had been pondering of tips on how to develop relationships with college students and oldsters,” Caron mentioned. “As a result of [social workers] are within the school rooms, mother and father have a go-to particular person to name after they have considerations.”