Throughout its history the Masai tribe of Africa have shared a traditional greeting when speaking with one another. The greeting “Kasserian ingera” simply means, “and how are the children?” This has been a question echoed across the nation and world, especially as nations across the globe have wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also a question that has been posed to school districts everywhere, with everyone especially concerned with the social and emotional well-being of students. The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer of complexity and challenge for students who were already trying to navigate a world that has more toxic roadblocks for them than possibly any other group of children, adolescents, and young adults before them. Research tells us that a large percentage of school-aged children face one or more challenges that are referred to as “adverse childhood experiences” that bring some level of trauma into their lives. And when you compound this reality with living through a pandemic (and a derecho for those of us in the midwest), you have the perfect recipe for challenging times for our kids. As we enter into the final stages of the 2020-2021 school year, one word comes to mind when I think about our Mount Vernon students. That word? Resilience.
Kids just want to be kids, and the past year has brought to them things they could have never imagined. Wearing masks. Being quarantined. Watching themselves or loved ones struggle with symptoms of COVID-19. Losing sports. Performing in front of near empty gymnasiums and auditoriums. Yet, despite all of this our kids have come to school each day with great attitudes and have done what has been asked of them. They have worn masks with complaining (okay, not a lot of complaining), and they have focused on following all the other guidelines in the hope that they can come to school and engage in learning and activities. I am so proud of our kids; and am so grateful to their families and our staff members, because without their support they don’t learn how to be resilient and capable of working through tough times.
Despite the resilience of our students, issues of anxiety, depression, and other social-emotional challenges are real for many of them. I have been working with and for kids for thirty seven years, and these issues have become more prevalent for youth especially over the past ten to fifteen years. As we prepare for the future, we are dedicating more time and resources to improve our approaches to helping students work through anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. We are dedicating more professional development time to hone our skills in working with students in crisis, and are continuing to build a greater repertoire of strategies to help them.
If you know of a child, adolescent, or young adult in Mount Vernon in crisis, please reach out to us so we can do everything possible to help them. It is important that, like those in the Massai tribe, we always ask “and how are the children” and that we are ready to act if we learn that the children are struggling. Thank you for the role you play as an advocate for our youth.