The American Psychological Association’s Div. 37 (Society for Child and Family Practice and Policy’s Diverse, Racial, Ethnic and Multicultural Special Interest Group (DREAM SIG) hosted a conversation hour with psychologists, teachers, and other providers, parents, caregivers, and students on June 4, 2021. The topic of the conversational hour was “Returning to In-Person School and Work: Strategies for supporting students, caregivers, and providers for the return to in-person activities post-pandemic.”
Those in attendance reflected on their feelings about the return to in-person learning and work and identified some of the most pressing concerns, including those related to the mental health of students and educators for the return to school in the fall of 2021. Effective strategies for supporting students and families, especially those from historically underrepresented diverse populations were discussed.
The following are some culturally responsive ways to support students, parents, and educators for return to in-person school and work:
- Include and support diverse voices and abilities: Meaningful inclusion of diverse voices and abilities is essential to creating safer and more equitable post-pandemic learning and work environments. It is important to avoid suppressing or silencing diverse knowledge and alternate voices rather invite, encourage, support, respect, and empower them. Being inclusive is not about meeting a legal obligation. Meeting spaces that look diverse do not necessarily mean that they support diverse perspectives and experiences. Provide opportunities for all to contribute just as they are. Intentionally invite students and families from diverse backgrounds to share their unique perspectives, informed by their histories and culture.
- Adjust your expectations and meet people where they are: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on individuals and families is diverse and varied widely. The pandemic has not affected students, families, and communities equally. Because its impact is unique to each person and family, teachers, schools, and other service systems need to adjust their expectations and meet each student and family where they are. “Business as usual” mentality may not be helpful. This is because moving from unexpected virtual learning to in-person learning is a new transition for many students and families and can be very challenging. Many students and their families may be experiencing some barriers but may not openly share their struggles for fear of being discriminated against or sidelined. For students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, the shift in routine such as the physical distancing can be challenging for them. For parents who may have concerns about crowded conditions on school buses but cannot afford to drive or walk their children to school, their dream for return to in-person learning may not come true. It is important for schools to consider the impact of these experiences when developing plans for supporting students, families, and staff for return to in-person learning and work to disable attitudinal and other barriers that may hinder successful transition and academic success. Schools and teachers should assess each student’s and family’s needs and build on their strengths and assets. Helpful practices that were adopted during the pandemic should be continued post-pandemic and includes, but not limited to, being flexible and providing each student with the resources they need to be successful.
- Provide support without judgment: Supportive and healthy school environments serve as protective factor for students. It is important for schools to consider social, emotional and behavioral support services in their planning for return to in-person learning. Supportive spaces where students and their families are invited to share what they know and think should be provided. Keep in mind that some students may still be dealing with having to lose important relationships and experiences as a result of the pandemic. It is important to listen, recognize and validate their feelings without judgment and to create safe spaces for them to share and support each other. Because some students may experience intense emotional and behavioral reactions to the new transition, it is important for educators, parents, and caregivers to be aware of their students’ social and mental health needs and know when to make a referral and seek professional help.
- Foster a sense of community: Positive school climate fosters positive relationships between students, teachers, and families. A sense of community optimizes learning experiences and social-emotional wellbeing. It allows for a positive parent-teacher-student relationship, which is essential to student success and in unlocking their potentials. Students and their parents may have many questions about the new transition and safety guidelines. It is important to listen and facilitate conversations that allow for sharing and affirming of their lived experiences. Opportunities that allow for the sharing of personal experiences for staff and students as they navigate the new or changed environment together should be provided. Students and families’ questions should be answered honestly, accurately, and in a timely manner. Schools and other family service systems should invest in resources that help to build an inclusive and responsive community. Being intentional about fostering a sense of community can help build the foundation for equitable support and teaching practices in schools and other learning spaces. Interdisciplinary collaboration and working together towards a common goal is vital for safer reopening and return to in-person school and work. By engaging in culturally responsive practice, schools and other children, and youth and family service systems are better able to foster a culture that allows students and families from diverse backgrounds feel that they belong and that their voices matter.
The following are some helpful resources for return to in-person school and work for parents and providers:
CDC provided several checklists for planning for the return to in-person learning and work:
- checklist parents and caregivers can use to consider and prepare for in-person learning for their children;
- checklist parents and caregivers can use for planning for in-person classes;
- checklist educators can use to identify ways to protect their health and that of the students in their classroom, as well as a guide on how to set up their classrooms.
U.S. Department of Education provided a roadmap to reopening school safely and meeting all students’ needs.
For more resources, visit Div. 37’s online resource page.