Opinion: Are schools prepared to meet the emotional well-being needs of youth?

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After the 2013 Alberta floods and 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires, school divisions were pro-active in implementing programs and supports for students living through disaster, the response to COVID can be no different. While the provincial government has allocated funds for additional cleaning staff and supplies and increased the availability of nurses, there is no additional funding provided to meet the needs of students in regard to their well-being.

Recently, the federal government announced additional funding to help schools reopen safely; however, at this time, it is unclear how this money will be spent here in Alberta. Schools are already reeling from recent budget and staffing cuts. Will they be able to bear the additional financial and psychological stressors of the upcoming school year?

Pre-pandemic, teachers were intermediaries with specialists in identifying students with social, emotional and psychological needs. Strategies and programming should be integrated into teachers’ day-to-day planning: the risks of waiting for signs of student crisis could be dire.

As educators, we don’t always get to know the details of our students’ lives. Have their parents been laid off? Has a family member suffered struggles with addiction in the home? Have they recently lost loved ones? Do they miss contact with those they care about? Are they in a home with violence, abuse? Our students may be internalizing the angst of parents who are struggling to make the “right” decisions about this year’s return to school. During the pandemic our students may have spent an inordinate amount of time gaming or on other devices, watching TV alone. They may have developed a heightened sense of fear of germs and contact with others. They may feel isolated and cut off from their social groups, feeling guilt for sneaking out with friends while possibly endangering family members. We have a plethora of unknowns to consider.

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