Students are gearing up to return to campuses, some for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools. Many youths are simultaneously grappling with their mental health — profound isolation from remote learning, building anxiety over the pandemic and a host of other issues.
Unfortunately, students don’t always know where to find help. An Active Minds survey found that more than half (55%) of high school and higher education students cannot identify mental health resources. I assume this percentage is the same (or perhaps even higher) among younger students. And while advisors and educators are typically eager to help, it can be challenging to identify students in need without the appropriate tools and preparation.
Like you, I focus on student success. Aviso Retention connects higher education institutions with student success software to identify which students need support and when. While this platform helps college-level educators, it has taught me valuable lessons that apply to K-12 educators as well.
Ask yourself these questions to ensure students are supported during this unprecedented return back to the classroom.
Are You Supporting Holistic Well-Being?
A holistic approach to well-being has never been more critical. Educators must take steps to truly understand the challenges their students face both in the classroom and at home.
Find out more about being a student at your school by asking probing questions. How are students feeling about their day? Is the transition from class to class chaotic and confusing? You may be surprised to hear which parts of your students’ days are unsettling.
Because youth can only focus on learning when their basic needs are met, round out the assessment of your students’ well-being by understanding their daily home lives. Broach topics like who lives in the household, which TV show they love or what’s for lunch. These seemingly benign topics can reveal valuable information about youths’ lifestyles outside of school.
Of course, students can be reluctant or embarrassed to speak about their home lives. Keep an eye on small changes in your students’ participation, attendance and grades. Even small fluctuations can be early indicators of deeper issues, and you can never connect youth to professional help too quickly.
Our partner Nash Community College offers its students on-campus therapy as part of its holistic approach to student health. Marbeth Holmes, dean of student wellness at the college, says the services “empower the whole student with personal, social and community resources for self-development and personal enrichment.” The school doubles down on its commitment to holistic health by giving students stipends to fund their basic needs. Therapy and stipends might not be available to your institution, but dig to see which resources are available and how they can support complete wellness.
Are You Overcommunicating Your Institution’s Resources?
In uncertain times, confidence in an institution’s resources provides invaluable security to students and their families. It’s critical to consistently overcommunicate mental health resources.
Be prepared to help distressed students by developing a comprehensive resource guide that identifies school and community support. The guide should speak to educators who need to find quick references and for families who might need to call on resources from home. When developing the guide, think about the holistic approach to student wellness by including in-school resources, like nurses and counselors, and community services, like food banks, mental and physical healthcare, transportation and childcare.
Make your guide as simple as possible to avoid confusion. For example, establish one go-to support person. From the very first day of school, students should understand who can provide relief in moments of crisis.
Once your guide is in place, share it with your students and their families through emails, classroom discussions, conferences and other communication channels. A running dialogue around available resources destigmatizes the need for help. And students and families feel supported just by knowing that support is attainable.
Another partner, Terra State Community College, leverages healthcare partnerships to support students with mental health concerns. Because the resource plan is shared widely across campus, students know to seek help at the school’s student services department. Each student understands that they also can call the community healthcare provider’s helpline and access therapists at the counseling center. Work to reach a base-level understanding of where students and their families can seek help at your institution.
Are You Providing One-On-One Coaching?
In today’s classroom environment, even the most well-equipped students can struggle. Establish proactive one-on-one outreach that surfaces problems before they become all-consuming.
One-on-one support ensures that students don’t fall through the cracks and that any mental health issues don’t fester. If youth can resolve “life issues,” then they are free to focus on their education.
Set up each student with a coach, which can be a teacher, counselor or mentor. Schedule regular meetings where students have free rein to voice wide-ranging concerns. These are opportune times for coaches to connect students with support from the resource guide. Ideally, coaches support students throughout their academic journeys, but they should take detailed notes in their files to provide organizational transparency on wellness and mental health needs.
Another partner, Randolph Community College, saw a 5-percent increase in retention among students who used success coaches. These success coaches filled in knowledge gaps for a first-generation college student, made sure a new mom finished her to-do list and encouraged a drop-out to complete their degree. Imagine the impact a success coach could have in the life of a young student.
As you may have noticed, there’s a common thread to providing today's youth with sustained, effective mental health support. Educators need to be proactive. Create a community in your classroom that prioritizes holistic wellness. Foster connections to resources by sharing them often and making them as clear as possible, especially for our youngest learners. And provide consistent, individual check-ins with responsible, caring adults that can gauge students’ well-being.
No one knows exactly how this school year will look, but the least we can do is mentally be prepared for it.
About Heather Taynor
As the Vice President for Student Success at Aviso Retention, Heather oversees customer experience, determining the best practices to assist higher education institutions in maximizing the success of their processes through the use of technology. Heather's dedication to the collegiate experience has led her to be the driving force behind not only the customer experience, but client and student success. It is with this clear vision and passion for the student experience that she leads institutions to align business processes and resources to ensure the number one focus continues to be students. With more than 20 years of experience in higher education, Heather Taynor provides clients with valuable insights and knowledge to help institutions surpass goals with the use of a data-informed, technology-focused, holistic approach to student success.
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