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Lenox Memorial Middle and High School

The pandemic and remote learning caused ‘profound effects’ on students. Two child-development specialists from Harvard will offer guidance for navigating the aftermath in Lenox

LENOX — The ripple effects of remote learning on students during the peak of COVID-19 are making waves now that schools have returned to pre-pandemic learning, sports and extra-curricular activities.

Lenox Public Schools will present a public forum on Tuesday, May 10, at the Lenox Memorial Middle and High School’s Duffin Theatre, 197 East St., to explore the “particularly profound effect of the pandemic on our children,” LMMHS Assistant Principal Brent Bette stated. Two child-development specialists from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Emily Hanno and Stephanie Jones, will offer insights at the 7 p.m. event, open to parents, students, faculty and the general public.

“While we are gradually returning to normalcy in our schools and everyday life, the question remains, what long-term impact will the pandemic have on students?” said Bette. He told The Eagle that he, Principal Michael Knybel and Schools Superintendent Marc J. Gosselin, Jr., recognized the importance of providing experts’ findings “in a continued effort to support the social-emotional well being of our students.”

In a recent podcast, Jones, a professor at Harvard Ed and a faculty director of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative. and Hanno, a lecturer at the graduate school and a post-doctoral researcher at the initiative, described their findings as they tracked thousands of families and children participating in the graduate school’s Early Learning Study.

Families reported experiencing a rise in temper tantrums, anxiety, and a poor ability to manage emotions, especially among young elementary school children during remote learning, the study found.

During a potential transition from a pandemic to an endemic — meaning the disease is still around, much like influenza, but is not causing significant disruption in daily lives — “we have to be ready to support children as they transition between these different things, these different experiences, and support adults in learning about strategies that support children as they navigate the changes,” Jones states.

Some of the key points they discussed on the Harvard EdCast:

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• “For many parents, having a 6- or a 7-year-old at home on a screen learning while one is working and managing a household and doing all of the things that adults do, that is really very stressful. We know that strain is tied to challenging behavior among children,” Jones said.

• “These findings aren’t necessarily going to be a surprise to anyone who’s weathered remote learning with a child at home,” Hanno acknowledged. “This is meant to be confirmation of what many of us have suspected. Our hope is to draw attention to the fact that children’s behaviors are shifting and that we may expect to see children behaving and operating in different ways than they did before the pandemic.”

• “Disruption can be really challenging,” Jones pointed out. “Changes to routines sets everybody off. Young children in particular, because they’re just learning how to manage all the changes that are just part of life. So I don’t think it means that remote learning is off the table, because that should be driven by public health considerations. I think what it does mean is that we have to be ready to support children as they transition between these different things. ... Truly it’s about the adults too, who need as much support and care as do the children. So one strategy is to really just open up space for processing and talking about how everyone’s feeling, and it doesn’t have to take a long time. It can be really quick, but it’s really important.”

• “Another simple, yet profound strategy is routine,” Hanno suggested. “We know that children thrive with predictability and that’s what’s been so hard about this whole pandemic, is that we’ve had little ability to predict what’s coming next and how long it’s going to last. So both families and educators can support children’s well-being by creating predictable routines that are going to happen no matter what’s happening. So small things like family walks [and] consistent mealtime routines can really make a difference for children. Doing a puzzle together, or cooking dinner, those might be spaces where children feel most comfortable talking about how they’re doing.”

• “When it comes down to the pressures of school and the enormous challenges that educators are facing right now, it’s hard to set aside time for these kinds of things because there’s such a press to get back to normal, to get on with things,” Jones pointed out. “ It’s a tough moment and a conundrum. My advice is always, ‘Spending a little time here will accelerate your other efforts,’ because children and adults will feel more ready for it. Children love to talk about how they feel and their relationships with others. It’s a really important part of their life. ... They care about that stuff and they want to talk about it.”

• “The adults’ well-being, whether that’s at home or at school, is so foundational to the child’s well-being,” Hanno emphasized. “Many of us have just been doing what we need to do to survive, allowing and giving ourselves time to pause and think about how we’re doing and how we might do more self-care. If an adult is feeling really stressed and frustrated, they can maybe respond more tersely to children, and that in turn feeds into the child’s behavior. It’s important to understand that feedback loop between adult behavior and child behavior, to be able to stop and see it happening, and then do something about it. As the adult, take a moment, stop, and address the burnout cascade.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_cfanto.

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