On January 20, 2022, the Boston Foundation hosted an online forum to discuss how our school system has responded to pandemic era trauma and mental health challenges, and even increased incidences of violence in schools. After 18 months of mostly remote learning, last fall nearly all high school students in Boston returned to the classroom in person. But the public health crisis and the economic damage are unrelenting.
With the voices and vantage points of a student, teacher, school psychologist, and head of school, the panel revealed a consistent assessment: Students were probably already underserved on the mental health front before COVID-19, and the added trauma, disruption and isolation of the pandemic has brought underlying mental health issues to the surface and created many others. The stressors continue even as in-person class has resumed—students, staff and faculty get sick and fall behind; people stay home out of fear for a vulnerable household member; former outlets to relieve stress are not up and running—and academic and future-planning demands pile on, especially for high school students.
Panelists agreed that the district is on the right track in taking steps to beef up services and support for mental health in its high schools. They also agreed that those steps need to be followed by many more. For example, each school was assigned two new social workers. More resources like that are deeply needed but the schools don’t have the systems in place to use them efficiently. Students sometimes find locked doors when they go looking for help because of these inefficiencies or simple overburdening of staff (some school psychologists, for example, split time between two schools).
The forum’s panelists were very solutions-focused and had numerous suggestions for how BPS could up its game, from incorporating social-emotional learning into the academic curriculum and honoring it with equal rigor, to simply putting the nurse’s office in the same vicinity as the counselor’s office. The highly engaged audience poured questions into the chat, showing that this is not a subject to be covered in one 90-minute session.
Welcome and Opening Remarks
Antoniya Marinova, Director, Education to Career, The Boston Foundation
Brenda Cassellius, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools
Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A
Vladimir Casseus, School Psychologist, Boston Public Schools
Robert Comeau, English Teacher, John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science
Antoniya Marinova, Director, Education to Career, The Boston Foundation (Moderator)
Ariella Taylor, Student, John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science
Will Thomas, Head of School, New Mission High School