Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Not talking about it doesn't make it go away

Item I filed on the Worcester School Committee agenda 11/18/21;
and yes, "disregulation" is actually spelled with an "i"

I thought about opening this post with links to the dozens of articles from across Massachusetts of fights and injuries and community reaction. Driving more activity to those articles, though, isn't really going to help.
If you pay some attention to education news, you've no doubt already caught some headlines around our schools, so you don't need me for that. That's also just what has made the news, and we know that never tells the whole story (and sometimes is even manipulated or manipulative, as noted by Lawrence leadership). And fights are only one way of distress being acted out. Many are much quieter.

There's no doubt, though, that students are struggling. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) joined together to declare children's mental health a national crisis.

There was an argument made often last year that student mental health was suffering specifically from being home from school, and that sending students back to school would solve the issue. Now, there's no doubt that having students out of school buildings did separate many from various kinds of supports that they need or wanted, which range, of course, far beyond mental health supports.
But this ignores, for example, that student suicides are historically higher on school days and during school months. The default that schools = better for kids is not only not universally true; it ignores some data we really need to pay attention to.

Despite it having made some headlines, what I haven't seen crossover into action is the amount of death in the pandemic that has surrounded children. More than 140,000 children lost caregivers in the U.S. (as of June). As with so much else:
There were significant racial and ethnic disparities in caregiver deaths due to COVID-19. White people represent 61% of the total U.S. population and people of racial and ethnic minorities represent 39%  of the total population. Yet, study results indicate that non-Hispanic White children account for 35% of those who lost a primary caregiver (51,381 children), while children of racial and ethnic minorities account for 65% of those who lost a primary caregiver (91,256 children).

When looking at both primary and secondary caregivers, the study found that findings varied greatly by race/ethnicity: 1 of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 of every 310 Black children, 1 of every 412 Hispanic children, 1 of every 612 Asian children, and 1 of every 753 White children experienced orphanhood or death of caregivers. Compared to white children, American Indian/Alaska Native children were 4.5 times more likely to lose a parent or grandparent caregiver, Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children were nearly 2 times (1.8) more likely.
If we add to that the deaths that haven't been primary caregivers, but those of relatives of children, the loses--again disproportionately--are staggering. There are also the years of lost life that add up, that in many cases surround children. 
Then there have been the subsidiary impacts--food, housing, employment--which in the U.S. skew disproportionately by race and towards children. More than one out of every three people living in poverty in the U.S. is a child. That which hits poor Americans hits children, always.
And I also have been searching, without finding beyond some tweets, something that looks at how the younger generations have viewed the ways in which adults managed the pandemic. I know that many of us (adults, that is) had perhaps this idea that of course people would do what was necessary to keep each other safe and would stay home/wear masks/get vaccinated/etc as needed to make others safe. And yet, of course, that hasn't been the case. I wonder--and I don't know--if there is any way in which children and young people feel adults haven't done their jobs in steering us all through this. 

There are major structural issues to providing supports for children, from sustainable funding (ESSER goes away!) to lack of providers. I keep thinking back, though to Neema Avashia's piece from September about time for healing. The state instead has stressed "acceleration" for learning, with limited mention of mental health at all. Districts have, I think, responded with varying degrees of flexibilities and supports and staffing. 

I don't think that we as adults in education have done enough to acknowledge the death--really--that has surrounded our children, the losses far beyond social events, or the drop in trust in organized agency. 

We don't fix what we don't talk about. 

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