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Best Distance Learning Practices for Students
By Dr. Lise Spiegel, de Toledo High School Counselor

As you are all aware, everyone in our community has had to change our daily routines due to the Covid-19 outbreak. As the mental health counselor at dTHS, I have concerns about many of our students in light of these dramatic changes. From teaching my own classes and sharing with colleagues on a daily basis, it is clear that this major disruption in our lives and in our students’ young lives is very difficult for them, as it should be! Not one of us has experienced a period such as this, but for our students with developing brains and psyches, it is particularly unnerving because they do not have the life experience to draw upon. This is a moment in our children’s’ lives when they might need a different approach from their parents which is why I am writing to you now.

Usually, as spring begins each year, we have a good sense of our children’s routines, what they need from us and how much we need to keep an eye on their comings and goings. We look forward to the approaching Passover break, college trips, Passover visits with family, and having time to just be together. Obviously, all of those expectations have changed for each of us. For our kids, this has become a time of uncertainty, loneliness, boredom, inactivity, and frustration because everything they are used to being able to do and look forward to has been withdrawn from them. As one sad student said to me this week, “I feel like my life has been canceled.” 

In addition, we, as their caregivers and guides, do not know when things will change for the better. Most of us can put up with a great deal if we know when it will end. These unique and totally unexpected days do not give any of us that level of control or reassurance. Again, as parents and caregivers, we are used to telling our children when something will change, what the deadline is, or what to look for in a given situation, etc. Now, we are unable to do this and it places stress on all of us.

What I am noticing and hearing from our students are the following: lethargy, lack of motivation, little enthusiasm, more worry and concern for the health of their loved ones and friends, feelings of isolation, and a pervasive, generalized anxiety about what will happen. Considering what is occurring in the world these feelings are valid, but because of what we at school are noticing, I am asking you to be cognizant of the isolation and personal upheaval they are experiencing. As your children are on their computers more than ever before, and probably in their bedrooms more than ever before, it may be necessary to check on their moods and feelings more often than you have in the recent past.

Remember that they are teenagers and no matter how it is explained to them, they feel the variety of emotions they have DEEPLY, much more so than most adults do. That is the way their brains are made and it will not change until later in their development. Therefore, from a practical standpoint, help them recreate a structure to their day; check that they are getting out of bed for class, that they are giving attention to their hygiene, even though they are not literally going to school, and that they are doing their jobs as students. Gently suggest that they stretch during breaks, get away from their computers and phones and go for a walk or to sit outside if the weather is nice. Give them opportunities to talk about how challenging this time is for them. You can ask who or what they miss the most, and what the hardest part is of this ‘stay-in-place’ period we are living through together.

In other words, watch their levels of isolation, engage with them more than usual so that you can keep an eye on their mental and emotional well being. Teenagers are social creatures and social media, while helpful, is not a hug, a pat on the back, a high-5, or any of the silly things they look forward to at school when they are physically together. Click here to view a guide to making online learning easier for students and families. Students received this on Tuesday, 3/24, and it may help you help them as well.

Lastly, if you are concerned about your child’s emotional health, please consider reaching out to your pediatrician or others you trust for a therapy referral. Our children know everyone is trying to manage this situation and it may be beneficial to you and to your child(ren) to have another trusted adult who will be a confidential resource for them and you. As always, for any concerns or questions, please get in touch with Ms. Howard, your Grade Level Dean, or myself. April 3 is the last day of school before spring break, and as all of you are likely thinking, let’s hope we can safely get back to normal before too long. Please stay safe and healthy.

Distance Learning: Best Practices For Students

Dr. Lise F. Spiegel
de Toledo High School Counselor