In our last Path Forward post, leading innovators in education and career readiness provided their thoughts on helping students adapt to change and build resilience so they can succeed in college, work and even crises like COVID-19. We continue in this post with comments from more thought leaders and practitioners who are working with students every day: Mark Bilotta, CEO of MassEdCO; Nicole Heimarck, director of the NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness at Reaching Higher New Hampshire; the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities; David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District in California; and Jane Oates, president of Working Nation.
We asked: We don’t yet know the full depth of the economic fallout from coronavirus, but one thing is certain: the ever-changing 21st century workplace will demand levels of resiliency and adaptability like never before. What more should we be doing right now to help middle school and high school students better adapt to change?
Mark Bilotta, CEO of MassEdCO: “The digital divide will remain a barrier to many low-income, first generation students. Students and families should be encouraged to contact their local school districts and notify the district of their individual needs for hardware and connectivity. For example, a family with three students should have access to three laptops and enough network bandwidth to operate effectively.”
Nicole Heimarck, director of the NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness at Reaching Higher New Hampshire: “Currently there are so many unknowns for students and their families. As a parent of a middle schooler, I witness weekly the anxiety that our current circumstances cause for students and their wishes to be back in school with their teachers and most importantly their peers. Adolescents by nature are social. Great effort should be sought in creating communities where they feel welcome. To the best of our ability we should strive to create a sense of normalcy and predictability. Connecting with others at this age is critical to both their development, their sense of belonging, and their need to process the global health crisis and today’s realities. Transparency and honesty are also necessary ingredients for helping students adapt to change. Creating environments where they can connect with peers and adults, and experience new opportunities for learning will help in addressing anxieties, support their learning, and provide some healthy respite.”
The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities: “The basic needs of students encompass food, water, shelter and security. At the next level are the psychological needs, such as self-esteem and relationships. Both basic and psychological needs must be met for students to realize self-actualization. Unfortunately, the “economic fallout” of the current pandemic situation is not only limited to monetary concerns but also affects both basic and psychological needs of a student’s well-being. Economic uncertainties, shelter and food insecurities are additional obstacles placed before students that impede their way to college and career readiness. For students to succeed, perhaps even thrive, they must be provided with the tools and resources that address critical thinking skills and social and emotional learning. With these tools and resources, students can navigate insecurities brought about from sudden change and adapt quicker to the changing dynamics of the situation. Students can handle their changing environment in a positive manner.”
Kathryn Barrera, director of development for HACU: “Middle and high school students may be better prepared to adapt to change than we as adults are. Things move so fast on a regular basis for them. For example, my 12-year-old, middle-school aged, granddaughter wanted to know if we are all going to die from coronavirus. Students at this age can be taught to look at the big picture and base their thoughts on facts rather than opinions. When you look at the actual data, you can form rational thoughts around the situation. This is also a time to teach preparedness for the what ifs. This is something that ASA has excelled at for quite some time from a financial planning perspective. This could be expanded to include other areas of preparedness such as disaster or pandemic.”
David Miyashiro, superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union School District in California: “Engaging the parents alongside their students right now in conversations and preparation for the World of Work is critical to keep students engaged and on a path to gainful employment. We are now engaged with the US Department of Education and the Office of Federal Student Aid on the final build out of the “Personal Finance” component of our “World of Work” curriculum @ worldofwork.net. Helping families navigate and understand their options for post-secondary opportunities should be at the center of parent, teacher, and student engagement.”
Jane Oates, president of Working Nation: “Mental health is my first concern for middle and senior high students. In the past few stay at home months, they have seen their family’s income, food and coping weaknesses exposed like never before. At the extreme, there may be domestic violence, but even in peaceful homes they have witnessed conversations that would have been held when they were out of the house pre-COVID. When they come back to school, they bring all of that with them. And frankly, what we knew about jobs and learning may be severely altered, so I think the work ASA has done to bring more reality into classroom instruction has never been more needed. [We need] real-time labor market information, straight talk about traditional media action routes and clear evaluations of the emerging, innovative educational paths.”
Thanks to all our respondents for their thoughtful comments. We couldn’t agree more that in order for students to cope with change and become resilient during COVID-19, they will need a combination of not only practical supports, such as technology or extra tutoring to deal with learning loss, but also socio-emotional support like the Virtual Mentoring Portal from Mentor and iCouldBe. Keeping kids physically, mentally and emotionally healthy will be key to ensuring they stay on track to achieve their education and career goals.