On the way home the conversation with my daughter confirmed the school's email. I asked her about her day and she didn’t mention the drill. When I brought it up she responded, “Oh yeah. it was fine. We just locked the door.” She went on to share some more details about what happened, who sat where, how long it lasted and so on. But as we were about to change the subject she added, “But at first I was scared. At first I was really scared, I thought I was going to die. If they had a gun they would just shoot the lock on the door. But when they said it was a drill I was fine.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, for obvious reasons. My eight year old thought she was going to be killed. And not just mine, all the other kids in her school likely felt the same way. And not just them, kids all over this country know the feeling. Our children are smart. We have a huge problem with school violence and our kids know it. They hear us talk, catch snippets of the news, they know that schools are targets. They do drills, some walk through metal detectors; all over the country our children spend their days in schools knowing they are targets for possible violence.
Another shocking event happened last week, the study from the Center on Reinventing Public Education came out on the impact of Covid on kids and schools, and we got some data around learning loss. At least you’d think that was the scope of the study given the response. Articles and blog posts have blown up reacting to the findings; significant learning loss has taken place. But that’s not all the study found. Of the four takeaways shared on the CRPE website the one that stood out to me was:
“The pandemic caused widespread harm to students’ mental health and social and emotional well-being.”
The study found that in addition to learning more about gaps in reading and math achievement, huge discrepancies in academic performance based on socio-economic status, massive breakdowns in the infrastructure supporting non-typical learners, and the ways in which curricula aren't supporting teachers in achieving learning goals, we learned that there was a 51% increase in the rate of suicide attempts by girls age 12-17 and 1 in 360 children lost a parent or caregiver.
Our schools are targets for mass violence. Our kids know it. Our world has transformed during Covid and the mental load of global health crises burdens children for the first time in a century. Screens, social media, and technology play huge roles in the lives of our kids and while we have a general sense that perhaps our children might be suffering from some of it, we largely let it be. Those are just some of our kids stressors. How are we surprised education is suffering?
While learning loss and low performance in reading and math are huge problems; and knowing that the work done over the last two decades to support more and more students finding success in their academic endeavors is deeply troubling; “The pandemic caused widespread harm to students’ mental health and social and emotional well-being" - our children are experiencing a mental health crisis and we don't know what to do.
We can’t expect our kids to perform academically before we find ways to support their mental health and wellbeing. And there’s no reading curriculum, no new approach to math literacy that will stick if the existential worries our kids must bear continue to overwhelm all else.