The Indiana Department of Education has created online resources to assist educators and families as they work to meet the social/emotional and mental health needs of students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Christy Berger, IDOE's director of social, emotional and behavioral wellness.
For educators, a major goal is maintaining connections with students, whether they attend school in-person, virtually or a combination. "We've really encouraged school partners to build that sense of community," Berger said.
Among the initiatives:
• Change the Frequency, an extension of Project AWARE Indiana, is an online resource for educators and families aimed at helping students develop a positive attitude and form healthy coping techniques.
• Last year, the state created a "roadmap for social emotional learning re-entry." Its three phases offered strategies to close out the last school year, plan for summer, and re-enter school in 2020-21.
For example, at the end of the 2019-20 school year, when school buildings closed for the last part of the year, it suggested teachers do activities to provide closure, such as make slide show presentations or YouTube videos featuring students. It suggested other activities to celebrate seniors who would not be returning to the classroom or participating in traditional activities.
In Phase 2, several districts paid stipends to student services staff, including social workers and counselors, to support families over the summer, typically through tele-health.
In Vigo, "We paid some of our school counselors a stipend to stay in touch with families over the summer to ensure their needs were being met and we were able to connect them to resources as needed. Project AWARE funded this outreach initiative," said Megan Kirk, VCSC Project Aware coordinator.
• Several high schools across the state have formed student-led Bring Change to Mind clubs, which provide a platform for students to support one another and raise awareness about mental wellness.
Bring Change to Mind (BC2M) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health and to raising awareness.
"We're looking at rolling that out statewide because we know that peer-to-peer support is huge," Berger said.
• Project AWARE sites, including the Vigo County School Corp., "are working to create sustainable, school-based mental health systems and supports for future statewide implementation," according to the Project AWARE website.
In addition, the Indiana Family and Social Services Agency provides the Be Well Indiana initiative aimed at supporting mental health during the pandemic; it provides a crisis helpline and also can connect callers to local resources for food, housing utility bill support and other needs. Those services can be accessed by calling 211.
Many callers to the crisis hotline are students who say their reason for calling is "they are feeling disconnected," Berger said.