Students hitting 'pandemic wall,' struggling with school and mental health despite restart of in-person learning

pandemic wall denise chuma
Posted at 10:15 AM, Apr 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 18:48:52-04

PARMA, Ohio — Remote learning may be a thing of the past for some students, but the effect of isolated schooling is showing up inside the classroom.

Psychologists call it the pandemic wall now being seen among more students observed by experts and educators.

What does it mean?

Hitting the pandemic wall generally means hitting a breaking point with coronavirus. Some students are feeling drained as they continue to cope with the restrictions and changes that have come with the virus over the past year. As a result, experts say students of all ages are becoming unmotivated and losing interest in school. Northeast Ohio school officials say this has been a widespread issue specifically with remote learning.

Obviously, the last year has been traumatic,” said Dawn Tabaj, a Valley Forge High School Guidance Counselor. “Change as well can be difficult for students.”

Tabaj says that for many kids being isolated from friends and family, while also being stripped of a familiar routine and an escape has fueled the disconnect.

“School for many kids can be an escape, whether they're escaping something negative or that it's just a positive place for them to go to, that they enjoy, that they look forward to every day. I think that many kids having that disconnect has brought up feelings of loneliness and missing things and not understanding necessarily what's happening in the world. They've never been through this,” she explained. “I have made several referrals to mental health counselors for my families and students. Hopefully, they can help them work through some of the things that they've gone through.”

Tabaj says many students need face-to-face connection and a sense of belonging to succeed in the classroom. In addition, she says they may need help feeling comfortable around their peers by re-learning basic social skills.

“We all just want to belong and feel accepted.”

What about the parents?

“I really felt very defeated and it was just like those moments. Those are the moments that hurt me the most of me questioning being a parent and trying to be a teacher, trying to be the friend, trying to be everything all in one and just failing completely,” said Denise Chuma, a Parma mother of three.

Chuma says remote learning was okay at first, but as it went on it became “hit or miss.” Her kids, ranging from high school to elementary, started to lose interest. She says while she was there they weren’t always logging on for school. Their grades also started to worsen.

Can students bounce back from the pandemic?

“After a while, it was just like, I don't want to do it,” she explained.

Her kids are now back in the classroom learning in-person at Parma City Schools.

“There's is that glimmer of hope. I hear that excitement in their voice,” Chuma said. “I've seen a little bit one, a change in their demeanor and they're being more active. They're being a little bit more outgoing.”

But there are still some concerns. One of her children is now experiencing separation anxiety.

“It's trying to get her acclimated of not wanting to leave school because she wants to come home all the time. She's worried about this, worry about that. So, there are new things that have come about since being at home and virtual and not being around other people.”

But and she’s not alone.

What can you do?

Aside from offering various school outreach programs, Tabaj says she’s had to coach parents on how to cope with the children’s new battles and their own balancing acts.

“There's definitely been a sense of anxiety among young students, among adults,” she said.

Though many parents are noticing a difference since their children have returned to school in person.

“Their children seem less depressed, that they're feeling more connected, that they're coming out of the room more.”

Still, Tabaj says there are things parents should do to make sure their kids are okay. She says the most important thing is to make sure your child feels seen as a person. You should also talk to them and try to understand what they’re going through.

Asking what kind of support they feel they need and honoring that can also make a difference. Lastly, finding support groups or after-school programs centered around your kid's interests and needs can also help.