Returning to “normal” life after a global pandemic is no easy feat.
That may be especially true for students, whose school schedules were turned upside down by the virus over a 14-month span. Schools moved to an all-remote model for the majority of the spring semester in 2020, and then returned to an altered version of in-school instruction in the fall, with mask and social distancing requirements in place for those attending class.
Many decided to remain home, learning via computer for the full year.
Concerns that students and their families may have difficulty returning to classrooms has prompted the creation of back-to-school support groups in town. Therapists will be meeting with middle and high school students and parents to mentally prepare them for the transition and develop the tools necessary to rejoin the classroom and manage the anxiety that can accompany that return.
The groups will meet four times before school is scheduled to begin on Aug. 31.
“We understand that returning to school for some students after a pandemic is a daunting task,” explained Town Manager Sean Kimball, at the July 14 meeting of the Town Council. “...“The groups will ...aim to help them readjust to coming to school everyday, and what is expected of them when they are in the building. It has been hard for many residents, especially our youth, during this time and we want to give our students the appropriate resources to be successful.”
There will be four groups in total, one each for middle and high school students and then accompanying groups for parents of those students. “This is meant for both students and parents who need help navigating all the challenges the pandemic has brought forth, and whatever might lie ahead,” added Kimball.
Participants were asked to register by Monday, July 26, to allow the department to allocate staffing between the groups, each of which must have at least five people registered to run. However, Michelle Piccerillo, Human and Social Services Department director, said registration for some of the groups was low enough that, if additional people did not register, they may not run.
“Anxiety can prevent you from being able to function at full capacity … it certainly can distract you from academics or even for adults from work,” said Piccerillo. “ … I can imagine in a lot of cases anxiety might prevent kids from showing up from school, which is something we really want to prevent.”
The idea of running support groups arose out of conversations between Piccerillo’s office — which is on the municipal side of town government — and the school district’s Pupil Personnel Services Department. School counselors found that some children returning to school last year had increased anxiety about being back and did miss some days as a result.
“The schools have done a wonderful job identifying the young folks who are struggling. We have an excellent support staff in our schools,” Piccerillo said.
The Connecticut Mirror documented a sharp rise in the number of students not reporting to school in the past academic year. Nearly 1,500 families were reported to the Department of Children and Families for educational neglect. That's up from between 500 and 600 in previous years.
Overall attendance was 92.9 percent for the last academic year, down from 94.8 percent in the 2019-20 school year, according to state figures. In Cheshire those figures declined from 97 percent to 95.7 percent last year.
Piccerillo said when children are back in the classroom, the sudden switch to a more rigid model of learning can make it difficult for them to have the same educational experience they had prior to the pandemic.
“Kids have been significantly isolated. I think the remote learning option that has existed has made it a lot easier for kids to stay home from school,” she said. “ … I think young people have seen it as a bit more flexible. I think the lack of structure and routine, it’s a lot harder (for them) to get into them.”
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