Kids returning to school will adapt to COVID-19 if adults create support, psychologist says


Part of a series: 'Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World'

CHERRY HILL, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) -- Many schools are taking a step toward normalcy by phasing in a return to in-person instruction, on a hybrid schedule.

Each district is different, but generally the classrooms that students would return to will not resemble the ones they left in March. Going to school in a pandemic means wearing masks, spacing desks 6 feet apart, using plexiglass dividers, and eating lunch in the classroom.

Some children may adjust easily, whereas the changes may create anxiety in others. Dr. Terry Molony, a school psychologist in the Cherry Hill School District, says young students are usually concerned with their day-to-day environment.

“So even if there's, like, a new routine -- if it becomes a routine, they're probably going to feel more comfortable every day," she said.

Molony encourages teachers to look for signs that students are anxious.

“Inattention, staring off into space. If kids seem more emotional, maybe crying, getting upset," she said.

She says teachers should hold class meetings to draw out children who may internalize their feelings. Molony says, above all, students need to feel safe.

“When you’re learning anything, everything passes through the circuits of the brain that are related to emotions," she said. "And if you're anxious, the information may not get to the right places."

She says teachers are going to feel pressure to make up for lost academic time, but she advises them to start slowly.

“I think we have to help teachers to recognize that maybe, like, less is more at this time.  And so, not to start off, like, bombarding them with these intense learning experiences -- but for them, the teachers, to figure out, like, what are really the essentials," she said.

The virus has upended the traditional process of instruction, but Molony says she believes that, over time, students will make up for any learning loss, as long as adults create a supportive environment.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered life in many ways for most of us, including the way students are learning. KYW Newsradio is taking a look at the impact of COVID-19 on education with "Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World."