August 12, 2020 Recap-"Mental Health: Teacher and Student Fatigue"

Article | 09.03.2020

The August 12, 2020 Wednesdays With Wightman Town Hall focused on "Mental Health: Teacher and Student Fatigue."

George Kacan, Regional Director of Architecture and Education Sector Leader, facilitated the session and panel discussion. The panel included two professionals from the West Shore Educational Service District (WSESD), Ms. Jennifer Rollenhagen, Multi-Tiered System of Supports Manager, and Ms. Monique Selimos, General Education Social Worker. Ms. Jessica Monberg, a graduate student at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, brought the perspective of a student who has recovered from COVID. Dr. Thomas Langdon, a part-time Superintendent for Walkerville Schools and an educational consultant for Wightman, provided an educator's perspective to the panel discussion.

Jennifer Rollenhagen presented an overview of how the WSESD supports success for all students in thirteen (13) public and private school districts and one school academy serving 8,000 students. A key is their staff who support Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

Monique Selimos detailed the expanded efforts of WSESD to support SEL going into the 2019-20 School Year. Those actions included:

  • Providing a K-8 SEL assessment (SELweb)
  • Providing region-wide trauma-informed practices training and environmental assessments
  • Providing 31n direct service

As Monique explained, while the benefits of those efforts were being realized, the COVID-19 pandemic caused WSESD to "hit the brakes." The question was then how to proceed with SEL during an unprecedented time of remote learning.  The answer was to launch several new initiatives. Those included:

  • Social-Emotional Health Newsletter – shared weekly, the newsletter provided SEL resources that districts could share with students and their families. Topics included sleep, play, managing stress, joy, and mindfulness, all targeted to the mental health of students and their families in a difficult time.

  • Virtual Book Studies – targeting district support staff who, while they have personal contact with others during a typical school year, were displaced from their regular role when districts were forced to move to distance learning. The book studies provided an opportunity for the staff to read and examine resources used by the teaching staff. One book used was Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. By understanding what teachers and counselors face, the support staff can better understand student, parent, and staff responses to certain situations and how to respond better.

With the close of the 2019-20 School Year in June, the focus shifted to preparing for the new year. West Shore ESD established regional reopening workgroups to examine the needs, and formulate plans to respond in six areas. Jennifer and Monique focused on Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. They emphasized the benefit of being focused on specific actions rather than being too broad. The quote from Byan Goodwin, "It's always better to do a few things well than a bunch of things poorly," was used to emphasize that point.

The panel discussion then shifted to the experience of Jessica Monberg, a graduate student who contracted COVID-19. She presented her knowledge from first being told she was in contact with a person who was confirmed with the disease, through her own diagnosis and ten days of recovery. Jennifer shared how the University supported her throughout this period. She was relieved of stress through a single point of contact.

From notifying appropriate persons about the situation to arranging for tests to be rescheduled, the university contact was very supportive. Jennifer could focus on recovery. Dr. Langdon noted that while Jennifer's experience was at the university level, the lesson for school districts is that support through the lessening of stress for the student and their families is critical.

The need to relieve stress to improve the mental health of everyone was emphasized throughout the question and answer session. People noted the pandemic increased the stress level for everyone. Realizing that and supporting others is essential moving forward.

Here is a recording of the session.