Back to School: Managing the emotions of virtual learning during the pandemic

The upcoming school year could be an emotional one for students, whether they are heading back to the classroom or preparing to learn virtually.

The Penn-Delco School District is holding an emergency meeting on Monday night to vote on starting the school year remotely.

The district initially hoped to begin the year with in-person learning five days a week, but in July, shifted to a hybrid schedule with a remote option.

The district now believes the data supports opening the school year fully remote.

At Pennell Elementary in Aston, the school had been preparing for all options, removing furniture to space desks across classrooms.

"This year, it's going to look a little different," remarked Pennell Elementary principal Joshua Leight, as he stood in a first-grade classroom.

"Kids are going to be nervous, especially our youngest," Leight explained.

Schools knew they needed to be ready to shift to fully virtual at any time.

RELATED: A group of parents in Montgomery County raise concerns about their district's hybrid plan

Dr. Jodi Cunniffe is a school psychologist in the Penn-Delco district. She says ample communication is key.

For example, for families in districts beginning with in-person learning, practice could help.

"Find out those fears upfront, and maybe even do a dry run of what the first day could look like," Cunniffe suggested.

She explained the district is weaving social-emotional wellness components throughout curricula.

"Everybody is coming into this school year with varying emotions, various experiences," Cunniffe added.

Cunniffe points out students and teachers may be faced with reduced stamina and increased anxiety.

Social-emotional lessons will vary from kindergarten up through high school, but the lessons will share themes, like gratitude, designed to bring stress levels down.

"When we are grateful, and when we promote kindness, it really helps parts of our brain kind of calm down," Cunniffe said.

At Colonial School District in Delaware, there will also be an emphasis on human connection, whether learning is online or in person.

Dr. Jon Cooper is Colonial School District's Director of Behavioral Health.

"What we're really looking at is- ways to not just deliver content- you know reading, writing, arithmetic, but try to reinforce those relationship connections," emphasized Dr. Cooper.

In this district, students in grades K-8 are planning to start the year with face-to-face and virtual options. William Penn High school is starting the year fully remote.

As opposed to last spring, Cooper points out that there's time for schools and families to plan.

"We're encouraging parents to talk to their kids about setting up the learning space maybe a little more intentionally," Dr. Cooper shared.

And remember, there is additional support for those who need it.

"Our counselors, our psychologists, our school nurses, are still working," stated Dr. Cooper.

There are also plenty of online resources.

Penn-Delco created a "calming room" where anyone can go to find helpful advice and links, and they are sharing it with the rest of us.
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