While the pandemic has put additional stress on people’s mental health, area school administrators say their districts have always put a focus on students’ and staff members’ social and emotional wellness, even before COVID-19.
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control found that “more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.”
“I think since the pandemic, anxiety has been on the rise,” said Jeff Solan, superintendent of Cheshire schools. “There’s a lot of stress and sometimes it’s social anxiety after coming out of the isolation. I think we’ve certainly seen an increase in anxiety, which is why things like physical fitness, being involved physically, a healthy diet, taking care of your body and also your mind supports that. If that is not enough for you, we have other resources as well.”
Solan said in Cheshire’s classrooms there are designated periods of time known as “mindful moments.”
“Students are taught how to focus on their breathing, clear their mind, be present in the moment,” Solan said.
Cheshire school staff are currently participating in a 30-day mental health awareness challenge, which began on Sept. 6.
“Employees have access to a special portal for free, where they can participate in weekly webinars on stress management, mindfulness and they also have forums and discussions where they can share suggestions for what is working for them, what their challenges are,” said Adilen Figueroa, a human resources staff member for Cheshire Public Schools.
Cheshire schools also have an on-site health coach for staff members.
“She’s available to meet with staff virtually or in-person,” Figueroa said. “She has indicated that there are many topics that someone can choose to receive coaching on. … She has mentioned that mindfulness and mental health has been a very popular topic.”