‘A nervous wreck’: As Springfield students return to class, parents put trust in others

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Kristi Lecocq of Springfield admitted she and her husband, Scott, have some trepidation as Monday approaches and their two children, a seventh-grader and fourth-grader in District 186 schools, head back to class.

Both students were remote learners for the entire school year (Lecocq declined to give their names or what schools they are attending), meaning that neither has been in a live classroom setting with schoolmates and teachers since March 2020.

Lecocq said she was "relieved and grateful" that a mask mandate was implemented by Gov. JB Pritzker, though the District 186 board of education had voted unanimously at its Aug. 2 meeting to go with a universal mask mandate as the number of new positive COVID-19 cases has begun tilting upward.

"We feel somewhat confident," Lecocq said, "that it will be as safe an environment as possible for the kids."

Nicole Scroggins has four kids heading back to public schools: Blake Scroggins, a freshman at Springfield High School; Jayden McCandless, a seventh-grader, and Miabella McCandless, a sixth-grader, both at Grant Middle School, and Adaline McCandless, a second-grader at Enos Elementary School.

See also: Area superintendents adjust on mask mandate, with changing information, governor’s update

She painted herself "a nervous wreck" about Monday.

Scroggins, who works for City Water, Light & Power, admitted that it is frightening to watch numbers of new cases in the county go in the wrong direction. Scroggins said she is banking on teachers, staff members and her kids’ classmates to do the right things.

"I’m going to trust that (my kids) are going to keep their masks on, that they’re going to wash their hands and that they’re going to follow the social distancing guidelines," Scroggins said. "I’m going to count on our teachers and our support staff at all of our schools to make sure everyone around them is doing the same thing.

"I feel I’m absolutely putting it in other people’s hands."

Not everyone is in lockstep with the school mask mandate, though. 

Unmask Our Children, a Facebook page for parents of children in schools in the Springfield Catholic Diocese, was started days after the mask mandate was announced and has about 200 members. A spokesman for the diocese said earlier that Catholic schools in the diocese would follow the mandate.

On Wednesday, about 100 protesters against the mandate, including some schoolchildren, gathered outside of the Illinois State Board of Education meeting. 

More than two dozen Illinois school districts have landed on an ISBE suspension list for openly defying the mask mandate. None of the districts are in the Springfield area.

Both Lecocq and Scroggins said their kids are mostly excited to be going back to school, though they are dealing with a different set of nervousness that centers around new schools, teachers and classmates, lockers and where to sit for lunch.

"For our oldest (child), their biggest concern is making sure they know how to open their locker," Lecocq said. "I’m hopeful it’ll just be the normal first-day, first-week jitters."

For other students, admitted behavioral health experts and counselors, it is much more.

More: Illinois State Board of Education gets pushback on mask mandate

High anxiety

Mary Beth Ray, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Professional Counseling Offices in Springfield, said she is "swamped" with clients, including more students than is typical, exhibiting anxiety and depression.

Some of that anxiety stems from returning to in-person learning, where some students preferred remote learning. Other students are anxious that they have fallen behind academically and that the last academic year was "a washout," Ray said.

Still others are bringing anxiety from home situations, she said, brought about by stressful or unfamiliar living or work arrangements due to the pandemic, she added.

Another thing Ray has noticed: teenagers especially have become germaphobes, so some of them are going back "with that fear of being around people who aren’t vaccinated, being in close contact with other students or things not being sanitary enough. That’s causing anxiety, too."

There’s a big difference, Ray added, in the minds of kids who are vaccinated versus those who aren’t. The ones who really believe in the vaccination and have gotten that, "a lot of them say I don’t want to hang around kids who aren’t vaccinated. So it’s kind of redefining some of those friendships, especially if those students who aren’t vaccinated are very anti-vaccine."

Jonathan Ponser, a licensed clinical professional counselor and manager of child and family therapy with Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, said for students who already experience anxiety or for those haven’t been around a lot of other kids lately, Monday’s return could be more trepidatious.

Ponser said clinicians embedded at another area school district where classes have already started talked about students coming in and not remembering what grades they were in or not remembering anything about the school, even though they had been students there before for many years, in some cases.

"It feels like a very new experience," Ponser said, "just because it’s been so long and that brings about a lot more anxiety surrounding that whole situation."

Because of the pandemic and remote learning, Ponser said, there may some students who have never stepped inside of a school.

Also: Beveridge takes the helm at Butler; Westrick ‘energized’ to be back in Catholic education

"That’s where, hopefully, parents have or are taking the opportunity to take their kids around the school, to see if there are opportunities to go in and see the classroom and desensitizing those children to that experience so that it’s not as much of a shock," he said. "If we wait and don’t try to do some of those things ahead of time, then it will be more of a shock (to the student)."

Parents who have been doing something to help their children connect with others virtually or have provided some kinds of socially distanced interactions with others may find the back-to-school experience less cumbersome, Ponser said.

Lecocq said her kids have interacted with pods of friends over the summer. They also have attended some summer camps that required masks and were taking other precautionary measures including having her seventh-grader vaccinated.

"We’ve been very fortunate to have really close friends who were taking the same precautions and fortunate to be able to send them to those camps," she said. "So for our kids, I’m not necessarily worried about that, but I know that there is going to be a demographic of kids in the schools for whom (socialization) is going to be a major issue and I do worry about that for them."

From conversations at home, Lecocq added, her kids "know the dangers of the virus. We try not to dwell on it a whole lot. We want them to be safe and cautious and protecting themselves. We don’t want them to be terrified of going back to school."

Mary Beth Ray said parents giving their kids information about COVID-19 is entirely appropriate. Some parents don’t want their kids to worry about it, so they tell them everything will be fine.

"But that doesn’t really reassure the child or address their fears, so to dismiss it like that is as damaging as talking about it all the time," she said. "Answer their questions, but you don’t have to be constantly talking about it and letting them hear things on the news."

COVID-19 has been a huge topic for Nicole Scroggins and her kids.

"My kids know what they’re supposed to do and hopefully they will do it," Scroggins said. "If they see a child coming up to them at school without their masks, (they) can ask them to pull the mask or (they) can just not go sit next to them."

District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said that she is excited that students are headed back to school, she is remaining vigilant about any changes in guidance.

"I have all kinds of thoughts that run through my mind every day about things we need to anticipate for and be ready to navigate towards," Gill said after Monday’s school board meeting. "I’ve been talking to the staff about how every single day is a different day. We could wake up one morning and have guidance that is different than we have on the table right now.

Read this: Former school board president withdraws motion to vacate guilty plea; will begin prison sentence

"Being flexible and being ready to address the needs we have is very important. I’m proud of our staff and our teachers and our students for their excitement as well." 

Scroggins said her kids can only do so much. Scoggins’ SHS freshman is vaccinated but her other three at home aren’t because of age or physical conditions.

Until a child’s vaccine comes along, Scroggins said, masks are the answer.

"I understand that we all want our kids to be as comfortable as possible so they can thrive and they can learn," Scroggins said. "I want my kids to be comfortable, too. But I think the part that everybody’s missing is we can’t just look at what’s right in front of us. We have to look at our neighbor, at the kid next door, the kid across town who needs our help, who needs us to do (the things) to protect them.

"We have all these little ones who aren’t old enough or big enough to be vaccinated. We have people who can’t take vaccinations for medical reasoning and people who just aren’t comfortable taking a vaccination or giving it to their child yet and that’s OK, too.

"Until we have a safeguard out there, we need to wear a mask. I understand they want their kids to be comfortable, but it’s really not a matter of just our own children and what’s going on in our own house. It’s a community matter."

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, sspearie@sj-r.com, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

Tips for school year 

Jonathan Ponser, a licensed clinical professional counselor and manager of child and family therapy with Memorial Behavioral Health in Springfield, has some tips for parents and guardians preparing for the upcoming school year:

  • Prepare your child an earlier morning wake-up and bedtime, especially if they have enjoyed a relaxed summer sleeping schedule.
  • Dial back electronics especially before bedtime.
  • Talk through what your student’s school day will look like.
  • Prepare your child for mask-wearing while at home.

Source: Memorial Behavioral Health

via The State Journal-Register

August 22, 2021 at 08:01AM

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