GLENDALE, Calif. — The past year has been challenging for everyone, but for elementary school students, it’s been particularly difficult.
They’ve been stuck at home instead of playing outside, connecting with friends, and establish formative relationships with peers and teachers. For many, it’s even impacted their well-being.
Los Angeles Unified School District social worker Angela Pailevanian has been working virtually with students to help them open up about their frustrations. Pailevanian primarily councils elementary-aged children and their parents
“Students are feeling a lot of loss,” Pailevanian said. “There’s this overall theme of loss in every sense that’s been coming up a lot, and I’ve noticed the kids have become really anxious. Kids don’t like uncertainty. They like consistency.”
She usually works in the classroom in groups or one-on-one sessions. But, when the pandemic put an end to in-person learning, she developed techniques to help students create stability and balance at home by instigating routines and schedules.
She also enlisted the support of a fuzzy stuffed moose named Stanley, who “encourages” the students to talk about their feelings openly.
“I get mad when my brother takes my video games,” Stanley “says,” “sometimes I take a deep breath, and I tell him that we have to take turns!” [Palievanian has developed a new talent — ventriloquism!]
Pailevanian said she’s seen an increase in depression and is concerned for students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable at home.
“Home isn’t a safe space for everyone. Home isn’t a calming space for everyone,” she said.
When LAUSD announced elementary schools across the district would be returning for in-person learning in mid-April, Palievanian was excited and concerned. Once again, students would have to adjust to yet another formidable change.
“I anticipate that some of the kids will have a difficult time separating from their caregivers. So many of our kids are still young and still forming their attachments, so to be at home with a caregiver for that long and now you have to go to school for eight hours a day and not see them — that’s a very big problem,” she said.
Pailevanian adds that she feels the pandemic has been traumatic for everyone, including kids, and that recovering from trauma takes time and extra support.
LAUSD officials concur, and in a recent briefing, Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that schools would have extra support on campus.
“$170 million will provide additional counselors and physiatric social workers at schools to help students process the anxiety and trauma of the past year,” Beutner said.
LAUSD will re-open several elementary schools beginning April 12, but returning to campus is optional for students and families. Some parents are still nervous about sending their children back to school. Pailevanian herself says she is a bit trepidatious too.
“As much as I don’t want to be home, it’s a big adjustment to go back to campus after so many months of not being there. I’m anticipating a bit of anxiety,” she said.
However, she said going back to school will ultimately be best for everyone.
“They [the students] are on the edge of their seats at this point, so let’s go back, and hopefully that will improve their mental health to a certain extent.”