Last Monday, Shippensburg University professors held a forum in Ezra Lehman Memorial Library to reflect on the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on education and mental health.
Rhonda Brunner and Wendy Kubasko, professors of educational leadership, set out to answer the question: ‘How has COVID-19 changed American K-12 education?’
Brunner and Kubasko surveyed school and district administrators in Pennsylvania who interact with Shippensburg in the Superintendent Study Council or other programs.
“Dr. Brunner and I are faculty in the Educational Leadership Program. We teach and work closely with school and district leaders. In our interactions with those leaders, we heard stories of how schools and districts were learning during the pandemic. It felt like the right time to study exactly what schools and districts were doing to support the needs of students, teachers, and families in their communities,” Kubasko explained.
“Our study explored the perspectives of K-12 school and district leaders about the ways they engaged and supported members of their education community during the global pandemic.
The pandemic offered a window into students’ lives and unveiled inequities that were invisible or perceived so.
Food insecurities, technology access and other equity issues have never been more critical to examine,” Brunner added.
While the pandemic caused many issues, it provided the opportunity to address traditional educational practices, according to Brunner.
School and district leaders became more aware of equity issues and learned how to be better communicators, she said. They also paid more attention to staff and students’ emotional and social needs.
Melissa McNelis, assistant professor of Communication Studies, explored the exacerbation of mental health struggles during the pandemic and how to collectively reduce pain during future crises.
“The pandemic created novel stressors such as, extended periods of grief in isolation due to social distancing regulations, vicarious, systematic and institutional racism, sleep disruption and uncertainty about health, death, unemployment and finances,” McNelis said.
“As of June 2020, mental health outcomes as a result of the pandemic included increased anxiety, depression, trauma-and-stressor-related disorder (TSRD) attributed to COVID-19, started or increased alcohol and substance use/misuse and suicidal ideation,” said McNelis.
College students have dealt with a multitude of mental health struggles for years before the pandemic began, but in their demographic these issues can become increasingly prevalent.
College students face life transitions, academic and social responsibilities on top of employment and financial issues and substance misuse, according to McNelis. These issues can aggravate pre-existing mental health issues.
“With the world opening back up, hopefully those who were affected most by the pandemic will be able to tap into their social support systems, use their social skills to positively cope with stress and roll back some of the detrimental mental health outcomes experienced since the winter of 2020,” McNelis said.