As City Connects works through the coronavirus, we are acutely aware of the painful impact this moment in history is having on school children.
“There are two big issues” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects says, “the impact of COVID-19 on kids and the impact of the shutdown on kids.”
Given the 24/7 news cycle, Walsh adds, children and families can be bombarded with necessary but nonetheless devastating news about the pandemic.
“What we know, based on research, is that kids understand illness in very different ways, depending on their developmental stage.
“Little kids think magically. How does the sun come up? Someone pushes it. Or: If you touch someone with COVID, you can die. They can worry for days about these things, even weeks. Older children, who are 10 to 12, can understand more. But they’re not going to reassure themselves by reflecting on the fact that we got through the 1918 flu pandemic.”
That’s why it’s crucial to connect students to people and services.
To address these needs, we continue to rely on the strength of our model of integrated student support, to keep relationships and services flowing to the right students at the right time.
“As soon as the curtain of COVID-19 fell, we went to the City Connects data,” Walsh says, “so we could see which kids had serious challenges and who we needed to get to right away. We started with making connections, providing food, getting kids Chromebooks. City Connects Coordinators have sat, virtually, with teachers as they reach out to students. But we know these are just the surface needs.”
Shutting down schools also takes a toll.
“For many kids, schools are a hub of essential services and support where kids get their social interaction and their social development. They may get most of their food and physical activity at school,” Maria Theodorakakis says. She’s a City Connects Research Associate who also works as a therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Kids are also missing out on big developmental milestones and symbolic moments like plays and school trips, sports championships, proms, and graduations.”
And Walsh points out that many students won’t have the chance to transition to new grades and new schools. And they won’t have the chance to say goodbye to this year’s teachers.
“For kids who have mental health needs that predated all of this, the impact of being shut out of school is much harder,” Theodorakakis adds. “Think of kids who already felt anxious about separating from their parents or kids who felt socially anxious. They were already having a tough time making friends. It’s the same with kids who are depressed. Adding the layer of anxiety and uncertainty that everyone is experiencing makes it even worse.”
“We are learning about how kids are conceptualizing the coronavirus and understanding the potential risk to themselves and their families. Children might be worried about getting sick or about their parents getting sick. They might also be worried about not being able to do the things they like to do. These worries can manifest in a variety of ways, like stomach aches and acting out. To provide effective support and intervention, we have to uncover the root causes and understand what the source of these specific worries might be.”
“But the City Connects model addresses kids’ needs in a beautiful way by helping us think about kids holistically across four domains” — academic, social/emotional, physical health, and family – “which is really important because now these domains have been blurred. Home, family, and school have blended.”
“I think City Connects’ core mission, that every child deserves systematic attention and support, which we’ve been doing since the beginning, is hugely beneficial now. We don’t have to ask how we’re going to reach kids, because we’ve already been doing it in a cohesive, comprehensive way.”
As City Connects moves forward, we’re thinking about how to keep providing services and prepare for the future and how it will play out in the states where City Connects schools are located.
“The uncertainty is a huge challenge for children and adults,” Walsh says. “But as adults, we can live with a lack of certainty. And at City Connects, we are doing what we do every day, replacing uncertainty with an evidence-based way to add integrated support to children’s lives.”