The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many truths to light in the education world. A spotlight has been placed on a multitude of long-standing issues.
Collectively, we’re more aware than ever before of the academic, social, emotional, and institutional challenges experienced by American students and educators alike. Many of these challenges were pre-existing, and many have been exacerbated further by the pandemic’s impact.
On a positive note, this spotlight on our issues has brought action and, hopefully, lasting change. Increased public awareness and access to relief funds for education initiatives have given education leaders the opportunity to focus on addressing these challenges head-on — and prioritize implementation of new methods, technologies, and curriculum to support positive outcomes.
Special education resources
As we saw during the initial stages of the pandemic with school closures, quick and widespread adoption of education technology was essential. The abrupt transition to virtual learning, while necessary, also highlighted some glaring inequities amongst our students and families, and their ability to adapt to virtual environments.
For special needs students, there were uniquely complicated challenges. Many districts and school systems struggled to provide the appropriate level of instruction and supports for their special education students remotely, and many others couldn’t reliably provide virtual special needs services or IEP compensatory services.
What was reinforced during school closures was a fact many of us are already familiar with: Every learner is unique. What engages one student may not work for another, and vice versa. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to curriculum and technology-assisted learning for special education students.
In short, there’s room to better support our most vulnerable student populations and improve their opportunities for learning.
For school year 2022-23 and beyond, we hope to see school systems and districts make greater investments in specialized special education resources, and invest in education technology solutions with inclusive elements; accessibility features, speech/language or visual impairment support features, and kinesthetic learning components — specifically those designed for special needs.
Mental health support
According to Mental Health America’s data sets for 2020-21, almost 14 percent of American youths (age 12-17) report suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year. That’s more than 1 in 10 youths who are severely struggling.
It’s worth noting this percentage doesn’t factor in students under age 12, those with non-depression mental health challenges, emotional disturbances, or those who aren’t receiving any formalized mental health support services. Considering that, we can infer the percentage of our nation’s school-age students suffering from mental health challenges is likely much, much higher.
The current data on mental health and youth can’t be ignored. To put it simply, education leaders are no longer in a position to regard mental health services and supports in school environments as merely “optional” supplements. We need to acknowledge the integral role of these supports for our students and actively incorporate them.
Now is the time for school systems and districts to fully embrace integrating mental health support services and social-emotional learning into curriculum design, and into the daily culture of educational environments. There are countless resources and organizations to help education leaders navigate this effectively, as well as public/private partnership options with companies like ChanceLight Education, which provides turn-key education solutions complete with trained staff, infrastructure, technology, and enhanced curriculum.
As educators and parents both know, a student’s mental health and well-being are vital to achieving success in the classroom and in life.