NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Overworked and overstressed. Connecticut educators are struggling emotionally to sort out the aftermaths of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laura Clark is a support specialist at Wallingford’s Parker Farm Elementary School. It’s a position that was added with COVID dollars to help teachers get through this tough time. She says students suffered learning loss and behavior problems like acting out or shutting down.
“Kids are having a really hard time regulating their emotions,” Clark said. “They’re lacking skills for empathy [and] conflict resolution. Things were there before COVID, but now COVID has just exacerbated the whole thing.”
Tables are turned, and educators are cramming to compensate for lost time. Adding to the stress is that there aren’t enough teachers or school counselors.
“Luckily, in Wallingford, we have one social worker and one psychologist per school,” Clark said. “That is not a reality in many places.”
According to a recent American School Counselor Association study, the most recent ratio of students per school counselor in the United States is 1 to 408. The ASCA recommends a 1 to 250 ratio.
Adam Van Der Swaagh says one counselor talked to his family when his teen daughter, Amelie, had a breakdown at school. No real help was offered, so the family turned to 211, Connecticut’s helpline, and a mobile crisis specialist responded.
“We weren’t sure she was going to be ok, and that’s terrifying,” said Jessica Van Der Swaagh, Amelie’s mother.
This happened in Killingly, a small town that made national headlines within the last year when the Board of Education rejected plans for a mental health center at the school. Public meetings have been heated, and the Van Der Swaaghs says no alternative was offered and that parents, students, and teachers remain angry and want change.
“It was devastating. It was heartbreaking to hear they don’t care,” Amelie said.
Amelie’s parents worry about the future of their younger daughter, Harper, and are considering sending her to a different high school. Amelie, a senior headed to the Maine College of Art and Design, sees burned-out teachers and kids needing support.
“There are a lot of seniors I know having a tough time figuring out what to do with college, and it’s weighing down on them,” Amelie said.
She says a room, just a room, where kids could clear their heads would help. Clark, who is also a certified mindfulness instructor, believes attainable, inexpensive approaches can be effective in helping the mental health of students and teachers.
“I would love to see more mindfulness in the classrooms,” Clark said.
Teachers could learn mindfulness through an app or an online program. Another inexpensive solution, according to Clark, is therapy dogs in schools.
Also, while knowing parents are stressed too, Clark urges moms and dads to assist with homework when possible to help kids catch up.
“I would just say thank a teacher when you see them because they are working hard,” Clark said.
The Connecticut Education Association offers free and discounted rates for teachers to receive mental health support, counseling, and mindfulness practices if needed. Clark hopes legislators will pass laws supporting smaller class sizes and better pay for our teachers.
“They’re not ok, but these are our kids, and we’re not going to give up on them,” Clark said.
Clark hopes teachers will see changes in the next few years.
News 8 reached out to the Killingly Board of Education twice, at first heard they didn’t respond, then there was an indication a statement would be provided. Then, News 8 got a tense “no comment.”
The Connecticut Board of Education is looking into a complaint filed by Killingly’s parents accusing the district of not adequately addressing students’ mental health needs.