During the pandemic, students have been forced to deal with a lot.
Whether it has been remote learning, canceled activities, in-school safety precautions, or the need to quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 or being classified as a “close contact,” it has been a year of upheaval for most youngsters in Cheshire.
All of that change has had a worrying impact on the mental health of students. As such, the community has been looking for ways to offer support and advice to both students and parents who may be struggling during the pandemic, and officials are set to offer another program.
On Wednesday, May 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. a special mental health first aid training class will be offered by the Cheshire Human Services Department. The session, offered via Zoom, will seek to help families and educators better recognize when someone is struggling with mental health issues and requires help.
Michelle Piccerillo, head of the Cheshire Human Services Department, determined that now was the time to offer such a class, especially given the fact that more students are returning to full-time learning.
“There is a huge crisis going on now and this class can arm teachers, parents, really anyone who deals with kids on a regular basis, with the tools to identify if someone they love is going through a mental health crisis,” Piccerillo said.
The class will equip teachers, administrators, and/or parents with the tools necessary to identify if a child is experiencing a mental health crisis and how to address it. Recognizing the symptoms may be more important than ever, given the fact that some students may be returning to full in-school instruction for the first time in months.
“The biggest indicator (that someone is suffering) is a marked change in behavior, of any kind,” Piccerillo advised. “If a student is normally one way, and you begin to notice drastic behavior and personality changes, that usually means something is going on. Signs like social isolation, decreased school performance, confusion and disorganization can all be signs that the child is struggling.”
Mental health has been on the School District’s radar for months, Superintendent of Schools Jeff Solan stated, and while he and many other administrators and teachers have training in how to address the issue, Solan feels it will be good for more people to familiarize themselves with what to look for when it comes to the emotional issues of young people.
“Student mental health is always important, but it is certainly magnified during a protracted stressor like COVID-19,” said Solan. “Thankfully, the vast majority of our students are attending school in person and frequently so that we can better monitor how they are managing.”
As students begin to phase back into the regular school day, Solan and his staff will be ready to address whatever mental health issues that may arise in the transition process.
“Our mental health professionals meet regularly and monitor significant shifts in student attendance, grades, and social interactions to provide interventions,” he explained. “Cheshire High School has dedicated time on their remote Wednesdays for healthy living to maintain balance.”
In the end, Piccerrillo hopes that the class will provide a jumping-off point for many in the community to begin to identify problems before they become a tragedy.
“The class does require some pre-work before the actual event on May 4, but the training will be an interactive virtual training where people can ask questions,” Piccerillo added. “We really hope that as many people as possible can take advantage of something like this. It will only help our students in the long run. Programming like this should be mandatory for anyone working with young people.”
Those interested in attending the class must register by April 30 and can do so by visiting www.virtualmen-talhealthfirstaidtraining.eventbrite.com.