Skip to main content

Millcreek Journal

Mindful support for young ones during confusing times

Jul 13, 2020 12:43PM ● By Katy Whittingham

Violet Gorman, a first-grade student, stands next to a sign at her school, Edgemont Elementary in Sandy.

By Katy Whittingham  |  [email protected]

We are often told, and probably even more often lately in a consolatory manner, that young children are resilient. While this may be true in many cases, not all children can just bounce back from major changes in their school and home life without resources and support. 

Erin Troup, a licensed professional counselor specializing in early childhood social and emotional needs based out of Pittsburgh, seeks to help people understand resilience is not just a given. “I always want folks to understand that ‘resilience’ only happens for kids if they have security, stability and support. Right now there is not a lot of security and stability for many families.”  

There has been much attention, and rightfully so, on graduating and transitioning students during the COVID-19 school closures with all of their losses including canceled graduations, proms and ceremonies. Disappointments of that level are hard to process for teens and even adults, but with younger children, even a canceled field trip or not being able to say goodbye in person to their teacher can create emotional turmoil, especially without proper supports in place.  

Ann Kane, the principal at Mill Creek Elementary, credits an overall successful transition for K-1 students last year on the strength of previously established relationships.  

“Students knew their teachers. Teachers knew their students and what to expect from them for the most part,” she said. “Coming into this new school year, the main question we need to answer is how do we build those important relationships and develop school culture in a new world of blended learning or all online learning.” 

Paul Cuttica, an early educational expert and teacher with more than 46 years of experience and based out of Texas, agrees that while children have the ability to adapt especially in the long term, there are measures that can be taken to help students feel more at ease in the short term and starting the next school year. 

“I really don’t worry about long-term effects,” he said. “I do see some short-term concerns including more issues with separation anxiety, especially with kinder and pre-k students. Depending on the ‘look’ of schools for the 2020-2021 year, an effective plan will help,” Cuttica said. 

Teachers might want to put some thought into making the transition as easy as possible for each student, which could include meeting a few students each day for a bag lunch in the classroom, allowing the child to see the room they will learn in and meet their teacher, and having something like a welcome back craft night for students and parents a few days before school starts, according to Cuttica. Depending on parameters put in place, he says even, “a simple phone call to each student before school starts can help as well.”

Principal Kane says plans for the fall remain unseen as they wait for the district’s instructions on how they will operate. 

“Once we have this information, we will develop opportunities for students and teachers to meet. Mill Creek usually has a Registration Back to School Night. This year we are not planning on it. We will do smaller meetings with teachers if allowed.” 

While they are unsure exactly how they will start the school year, Kane says, “it will be focused on getting to know students and having them learn expectations. We also are going to focus on teaching how to use Chromebooks and the technology we will use. That will be difficult with kinders. Most likely they’ve never used a Chromebook for learning. That will be our challenge.”  

Three girls who will be entering second grade at Edgemont Elementary in Sandy might sum up the excitement and worry some younger students are facing the best. When asked what they are most excited about for the next school year, they responded almost in unison, “A new teacher, new friends, a new classroom!”  

When asked what they worried about they repeated the same things they were also excited about with the addition from one student, “I worry we will never go back to school, and my brother will break my iPad again, and I don’t think you can get a job if you don’t get through second grade.”  

Added another, “I’m kind of worried all the paints and markers have dried up and that everyone has enough to eat during the summer.”