School psychologist Beth Rizzi is a member of the Wappingers Congress of Teachers and president-elect of the New York Association of School Psychologists.
1. How have you been connecting with students during the pandemic and school closures?
Since March 13, I have been in touch with students on my counseling caseload. I meet with many via Google Meet and a Google Voice number that I set up immediately. I also have a Google Form for check-ins which is available to all students through my school website. I also use mindfulness cards and mindful moments. Luckily, most of my students are very receptive to meeting. They really miss the in-person contact at school.
2. What do you think students’ social-emotional needs may be when they return to school?
There are so many possibilities, some of which have been addressed and many that I am sure have not. First and foremost are grief, loss and stress. Other concerns: What circumstances have they been living in? Have they been having their most basic needs (eating, sleeping) met? Have they lost someone close to them? Are students who have experienced school refusal in the past ready to come back?
When students return, it will be important to assess the need for mental health support because there are so many variables in crisis situations — and childrens’ responses to crisis.
3. What about parents and educators?
Parents’ mental health is also at risk during the pandemic. Lost jobs or cut back hours, working from home while simultaneously caring for children, social isolation, anxiety about the unknown — all of these contribute to parents facing myriad stressors that can increase the risk of mental health problems and exacerbate alcohol and drug misuse.
Another large concern is for my colleagues. Some may be immunocompromised. Some may have lost family members. How are they prepared to teach and serve students? Have they had access to appropriate mental health services during our “on-pause” time?
4. You serve as president-elect of the New York Association of School Psychologists. How does this pandemic reveal the need for school social workers, psychologists and counselors?
Our state and country’s health care resources are stretched thin, schools are closed, and families are feeling significant stress — all of this will impact children’s health and well-being, now and in the future.
Studies show that adversity during childhood, including adversity stemming from natural disasters, can have lasting impacts on children’s social-emotional health. And troublingly, this adversity will disproportionately affect low-income families who have fewer resources.
The stress currently experienced by many parents, students and educators, compounded by the uncertainty of how next year will look, is suggestive that all of these experts are needed.
5. How do you see this help unfolding?
School-based mental health practitioners need to be present to help address students’ individual needs. They also need to work with systems, including educators and parents, to help them create frameworks for success in times that may continue to be uncertain.