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Experts give safety, mental health tips to prepare teachers for school year

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 6:59 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Tri-City schools will be entering an entirely different era of education this year, and medical experts are making sure staff is equipped with the proper tools to teach during a pandemic.

CHI Health hosted a Virtual Teacher Mental Health Assembly Monday where infectious disease and mental health experts gave tips on a variety of things that’ll impact classrooms this year, from safety protocols to student anxiety and societal issues.

“The education community is facing now what the healthcare community faced in March, and what a lot of people in the service industry were facing in March and April,” said Dr. David Quimby, a specialist in infectious diseases with CHI Health.

Dr. Monica Arora, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with CHI Health, discussed signs of trauma in kids of different ages and what teachers need to look for to detect issues early on.

Things staff and parents might notice in kids from preschool to second grade are regression in milestones, such as clinging to adults, bed wetting and thumb sucking, increased aggression and even physical symptoms.

Kids between seven and 13 and teenagers might worry about family and themselves, have difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, lack of interest in normal activities, defiance to authority, a decline in academic performance and substance abuse.

Laurie Peterson, a health and family consumer science teacher at Walnut Middle School in Grand Island, said she felt this topic was covered well and gave her even more ideas for what skills teachers should emphasize during this time.

“Being kind to one another,” Peterson said. “That’s something we’ve always taught, but it’s just so important now because everybody is going to want to be heard. They’ve been in their homes since March. So everyone’s going to need a voice.”

In addition to explaining the signs of trauma, Arora explained how teachers can respond to what they’re seeing.

Most of the experts agreed the key is for teachers to focus on building relationships with students early on. This can help create an environment where kids feel safe and ready to share emotions and feelings.

“Those first few days are definitely going to be difficult in getting acclimated back to sitting down, structure, routine and all of that,” said Sheila St. Amant, a school based mental health therapist with CHI Health. “So utilizing some of those coping skills throughout the day I think will help the children to be successful in acclimating back.”

The other part of discussion centered around how teachers can best implement safety measures to reduce the spread of infection.

Dr. Renuga Vivekanandan, a specialist in infectious diseases with CHI Health, said there are three key practices everyone should follow; hand hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing. Students and staff should especially wear masks in times when staying six feet apart isn’t possible.

Vivekanandan demonstrated the proper way to put on and remove a mask, grabbing it by the ear loops to put it on and pinching around the nose to secure it.

While cleaning surfaces and high-touch areas and materials is always a good idea, especially in a school, doctors said washing hands often is the best way to prevent contracting the coronavirus.

With some Tri-City schools requiring masks during the school day, Vivekanandan cleared up questions about students breathing in carbon dioxide.

“Over and over studies show that is not a concern,” Vivekanandan said. “They are getting enough oxygen. Also this will not effect their learning ability. Kids are able to learn with a mask on.”

Quimby said students in kindergarten and up are old enough to wear masks, although there are some health conditions that may prevent it.

Copyright 2020 KSNB. All rights reserved.

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