Many children are struggling during the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey by the mental health organization, Young Minds discovered 83% of youth and young adults with a history of mental illness felt their condition has worsened in the last month. This is especially true for youth with a history of mental/behavioral issues. It also true for those missing out on celebratory milestones like graduation and prom.
When Ms. Miranda (Donna Miranda), Senior Advisor at Joan Macy School (JMS) is asked How is it going? She repeats, “How is it going?” And after a pause, she states, “It’s going as well as it can be. We miss the kids, and the kids miss us. Nothing about this situation is ideal.”
Like most schools across the globe, students and teachers from JMS are practicing distance learning during the safer-at-home order.
Joan Macy School is a specialized non-public school for at-risk children and teens grades 1-12. Students are referred by their school district when public school is unable to meet their various needs to provide an environment for them to thrive.
“Almost all the students faced academic challenges and many have faced mental health issues like anxiety and depression,” Donna explains. “Right now, during the safer-at-home order, students are getting staff contact all 5 days of the school week. Some of it is academic support but a big chunk of it is social-emotional.”
Faculty and staff at JMS have had to get creative in recent weeks when offering support to their students. “It’s really hard not being able to see them in person and say ‘I know it’s really rough, do you want a hug?” Donna confesses. “In addition to the pens, pencils, markers, crayons, and whatever else they might need; we’ve sent home things to support them during their days. For example, we have sent playing cards for when the students are bored; cookie mix because one student wanted to bake; and we sent home a stuffed animal to a student who said they’d like something to hug. All of us teachers are doing the same thing- filling any little need that might bring a little bit of happiness to the students, while also helping them maintain their academics.”
While all students are missing in-person interactions with their peers and teachers, it is the seniors who seem to be struggling the most according to Ms. Miranda. “My 12th graders are freaking out.” Donna shares, the pep in her voice fading. “They’re sad they are missing their senior celebrations. Some of these students we have had here for so long- one (student) has been with us for 6 years. They’ve overcome a lot, and it’s really hard for them to have something they’ve been looking forward to for so long be delayed. And we know how special these milestones are for the students…it’s always an amazing feeling when we get them up on stage to graduate. They’ve overcome so much more than what I see my own kids and their friends go through.”
Not all hope is lost however, graduation has only been postponed and staff has been making great efforts to celebrate their accomplishment at a distance. “We just got their senior shirts in on Monday so we’ll be delivering those. And we are going to use their pictures from when they first came to us in six, seventh, eighth grade and we’re going to put it next to their graduation pictures on display. It helps us to be able to connect with them- they’re so much a part of our lives too. And we let them know we will have graduation as soon as we can possibly get together and be safe, we will definitely celebrate you (the students). You will be on stage in caps and gowns making your speeches.”
While JMS staff work diligently each day to foster the emotional and educational needs of each student, Donna leaves us with some advice to get through the safer-at-home order. “Try to keep your head up. Keep in touch with friends, keep up with your academics, take a walk. I know it’s super easy to lounge around in your pajamas and to not feel any motivation whatsoever- but we’ve got to keep our brains sharp. Be sure to do something every day to keep your head up and remember we will be together again.”
Thank you to all the JMS teachers and staff who are working to support the students!
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