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Here's what schools are doing to try to address students' social-emotional needs

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory this month saying the youth mental health crisis is getting worse.

"The pandemic era's unfathomable number of deaths, pervasive sense of fear, economic instability, and forced physical distancing from loved ones, friends, and communities have exacerbated the unprecedented stresses young people already faced,"Murthy wrote. But he also emphasized that mental health conditions are treatable and preventable.

And newly released datafrom the U.S. Department of Education suggests that schools all over the country are trying to play their part. A federal survey of 170 schools in September found that 97% are taking some steps to support student well-being now that they are back to teaching in person. This includes one or more of the following:

  • 59% are offering specialized professional development to existing staff members so they can support students in turn. 
  • 42% have hired new staff, such as counselors and social workers. 
  • 26% have added student classes to address topics related to social, emotional or mental well-being.
  • 20% have created community events and partnerships. 
  • Educators at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C., have seen the toll the coronavirus pandemic has taken on students, socially and emotionally.

    "A lot of our kids are still struggling with ... being acclimated to the reality that a couple of years ago they were in middle school, and then they were just dropped here [in high school]. So there are some struggles there, [as well as] kids who may be going through things emotionally at home," says Assistant Principal Christopher Burnette.

    Guilford County Schools, which includes Grimsley High School, has partnered with outside donors, including the Walton Family Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, to offer "learning hubs" that run after school and in some schools on weekends. (Dell Technologies is a financial supporter of NPR.) The hubs are places to catch up on schoolwork, but they're also places to check in on students' states of mind, says Burnette.

    "A lot of it is not always about homework or schoolwork — it's about kind of how you're doing, how you're feeling. And if they start to open up, we'll, you know, pull them to the side and we'll be able to identify certain things that support them in that particular way as well."

    The hubs have a school counselor on hand, and the school has trained other staff members to handle these kinds of supportive conversations.

    Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.