Some school districts report that students are happy to be back in the classrooms

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By TASIA BASS
Capital News Service

LANSING — Some school officials in Michigan report that students seem to be in a better mood returning to in-person classes after they were abruptly sent to virtual learning in March. 

Having in-person schooling may seem stressful during a pandemic, but some school officials say students are in great spirits. Mental health in students during this time is important, and they are showing to be adaptable even now, said Mark Platt, the superintendent of Hart Public Schools. 

“I find that the children are the most resilient,” Platt said. “It is the parents that struggle more with the change. But we do have a plan in place to check in on our kids, especially for that social and emotional piece.” 

There are professionals in place to talk with the students if they are scared or anxious, Platt said. The district has a road map that it will keep tweaking as the school year progresses. 

Students are relieved about going back to school, Platt said. If the novelty wears off and students begin to feel stress, there are people in place to connect and speak with the students to help them through their issues. 

Some districts offer parents the choice to send their students to the classrooms or to continue with virtual learning. Other districts have decided to continue completely online until at least January.

A number of students changed their minds about being in at the last minute, Platt said. 

“We have about 75 percent in person and 25 percent virtual right now,” said Platt. “We have folks doing home visits to make sure those students know that we still care and to let them know that if they ever want to come back, we are here.” 

There’s a heightened anxiety for online students, said Erika Coates, the clinical director at Detroit Behavioral Institute, a residential treatment center for mental and behavioral health issues. 

“Not having that face to face with peers and interactions with teachers can be overwhelming,” Coates said. The mental health impacts on children are greater when they are lacking the social interactions that school provides them.

Other districts also found that social interactions during in-person school yield positive results for the students. Students are happy to be back with their friends after the school year abruptly went virtual last year, said Amber Kowatch, the Manistee Area Public Schools’ curriculum director.

“Early reports show that the students are excited to be back,” Kowatch said. “It is a positive thing for them to have social interactions with their peers.”

Still, schools know this may change over the year, especially if anyone tests positive and an entire class must self-isolate, Kowatch said.

One program that can help students who are stressed by the pandemic is called CareConnect, she said. It increases prevention, early identification and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders. 

The program also helps families struggling as a result of COVID-19, whether the students are in person or online.

“We meet the needs of students and families, whatever they may be,” Kowatch said. “This includes providing resources to families that might be in need of school supplies, housing and utilities.”

Though school officials say they are working to ease problems that students and their families may face during these uncertain times, they acknowledge not everything will be perfect. 

“Our goal this year is to be patient, understanding and display grace,” Platt said. 

His district will do its best to make sure the students’ needs are met, he said. Going back in person was a difficult decision for some families, but he is glad to see the students back in the halls.