The Weekly Connect 1/25/21

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Here are some of the things we’ve been reading about this week:

Screen use is going up among some younger children.

President Joe Biden is encouraging schools to open in the next 100 days.

The pandemic is making the mental health crisis for children worse.

To read more, click on the following links.

Research & Practice

What Student Age Groups Are Most Vulnerable to Pandemic-Related Trauma
Education Week: Closing in on a year of the pandemic, many students have experienced illness and the deaths of loved ones, ongoing family financial and housing instability, and disconnection from school and friends. While these toxic stressors can take their toll on all children, a new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests young adolescents may be the most vulnerable to long-term problems as a result. “This [age-related] finding may reflect the sensitivity of the adolescent brain or suggests that activities disrupted by [household dysfunction] during adolescence (e.g., education) are more vital for later outcomes than the activities disrupted during early childhood,” the study’s author concluded. 

10,000 Student Study Points to Kindergarteners Who May Become Heavy Screen Users
The Hechinger Report: Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, teens were spending an average of seven hours a day on their phones. A new study suggests that this sort of technology overuse doesn’t just pop up during adolescence. Researchers at Penn State analyzed 10,000 students and found that kindergarteners in low-income families and Black kindergarteners of all incomes had a higher propensity to be heavy users of technology by the end of elementary school. Hyperactive kindergarteners and those exhibiting aggressive behaviors were also more likely to become frequent users. Lack of access to outdoor spaces and afterschool programs, as well as utilization of social networks to connect with others and cope with discrimination, were hypothesized to explain some of these findings.

NYC Sees Steep Drop in Babies and Toddlers with Disabilities Getting Services During Pandemic
Chalkbeat: As New York City became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, the number of infants and toddlers referred for evaluations due to possible disabilities plummeted, according to a recent analysis of city data. At the same time, thousands of young children who were already receiving these services stopped getting them. The analysis focuses on “Early Intervention” services, which are required by federal law, and are designed to ensure that children from birth to age 3 with disabilities or developmental delays get crucial help such as physical, occupational, or speech therapy. The findings mirror a decline in referrals for special education services among school-age students and offer another grim window into how students with disabilities have struggled during the pandemic. See related articles: Chalkbeat “NYC Teachers are Now Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine. When Will Schools Return to Normal? and EdSurge “Can You Provide a Quality Preschool Education Over Zoom?

Policy

Biden Pushes to Reopen Schools Within 100 Days
CNN: President Joe Biden is pledging to reopen most K-12 schools within 100 days, an ambitious goal as COVID-19 cases surge. Teachers’ union leaders say they are pleased with Biden’s sense of urgency, but they warn that the 100-day pledge may need to be a goal rather than a fixed target. In his early days in office, Biden is expected to sign several executive orders to support the reopening goal. One executive order will provide reopening guidance to schools with a focus on masking, testing, and cleaning. A separate presidential memorandum will offer reimbursement to schools for purchases of personal protective equipment. Biden is also pushing Congress to approve another $170 billion for K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to help them operate safely in person or facilitate remote learning. See related articles: Education Week “What Biden’s ‘American Rescue Plan’ Would Do for Schools and Students, in One Chart” and U.S. News & World Report “Biden Outlines Plan to Solve Childcare Crisis.” 

Why Billions in Food Aid Hasn’t Gotten to Needy Families
N.P.R.: According to a report from Feeding America, 1 in 4 households with children experienced food insecurity in 2020. School food programs have been working hard: offering groceries, pre-prepared meals, and everything in between. But it often isn’t enough. One federal program, however, did make a difference. Congress passed a law giving families the cash value of the meals they missed when schools were closed, loaded onto existing EBT cards or debit cards. Congress reauthorized the benefits for this current school year on Oct. 1. And the benefit was supposed to be extended to younger children as well. But the plan ran into a bureaucratic wall. One complication was that this fall, not every school was closed all month. Closures varied week to week, state to state, district to district, and school to school, which made rollout of the plan so complex that everything has been largely in a holding pattern. See related article: Politico “‘Something We’ve Never Done’: Florida Schools Drain Reserves to Feed Kids at Home.”

Around the Nation

‘I’ve Tried Everything’: Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis
N.P.R.: Roughly 6% of U.S. children ages 6 through 17 are living with serious emotional or behavioral difficulties, including children with autism, severe anxiety, depression and trauma-related mental health conditions. Many of these children depend on schools for access to vital therapies and trusted adults who understand their needs. When schools and doctors’ offices stopped providing in-person services last spring, kids were untethered from the people and supports they’d come to rely on. As a result, many children spiraled into emergency rooms and even police custody. Federal data show a nationwide surge of kids in mental health crisis during the pandemic, a surge that is further taxing an already stretched safety net.

Where Families are Feeling Pandemic Impacts the Worst
Education Week: The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare some of the educational and resource inequities facing families across the country in a host of areas, from access to technology and time for home-based learning to issues of household finances and food for the table. EdWeek Research Center’s analysis of recent U.S. Census Bureau survey data on families with children paints a picture of regional winners and losers, areas of progress even during the pandemic, and places where deficits remain entrenched amid the continued disruption of school and family life. Key takeaways from the survey analysis include: technology access remains uneven, states and regions vary widely in how much they think the pandemic has disrupted normal schooling, and food insecurity has impacted families in every state.

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