The Number One Priority

It is hard to believe that 2022 is here. It is even harder to believe that we have been living with the pandemic for almost 2 years, and have endured all of the stress and trauma that we have… but we are a resilient community with a ton of heart and a new year ahead.

Middle School morning meeting

I had the opportunity to welcome all of our Middle School students back yesterday, and it was absolutely wonderful to be with them. Our literal circle always feels like family, and just standing in it is incredibly grounding. We took a moment to acknowledge that our community has been affected by the tragic Marshall Fires. Some of our community was directly and deeply impacted, others indirectly impacted, but when something like this happens– we are all affected in some way. Trauma, loss, and grief are some of the trickiest work in my field. I find this work to be defined by patience. For those who like to help fix and heal things as quickly as possible, it is an exercise in letting each person discover their own path, and to walk beside them in that process. I reminded our students that everyone is experiencing their lives and their circumstances in their own ways, and that now is a perfect time to feel empowered to share their boundaries and check in with others regarding theirs.

I recognized that the last few years have been defined by a need for flexibility, living with disappointments, loss, grief, stress… life has been challenging. The number ONE priority is to take care of their emotional and mental wellbeing. There is no conversation too superficial, no emotion too small, no concern that isn’t worthy… I encouraged them to come and talk- or sit in silence… whatever the need may be. We don’t want any of our students to suffer in silence. We are here, and we are family.

I ended our time together acknowledging that we are part of a very special, loving and caring community. Despite all of the struggles and hard times, we are resilient, and have each other. This is something we can all feel really good about and grateful for.

This is a very simple and helpful resource for talking to children after traumatic events:
https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/tips-talking-to-children-after-traumatic-event.pdf

Aside from the recent wildfires Colorado experienced and Covid, I often work with students on transitions… transitions can be difficult- even the ones that we look forward to, and are excited about. Rarely does a transition come without some layered emotional complexities and a demand for some level of flexibility.

So, as you can imagine, holidays and breaks from school tend to be times when my office gets busier. Transitioning into Thanksgiving break, back to school, and three weeks later transitioning out for winter break, and then after adjusting to a holiday schedule- time to transition back to school. It is a lot. I also think it is important to note that holidays are not always easy for people. For those who have suffered loss or are impacted by mental illness, these days are that much more challenging. So, as we transition back into our school routines, keep in mind that your child may be dysregulated, emotional, excited, nervous- and this is all natural. Reassurance, validation and patience (and for some- extra hugs) can go a long way.

As we move into a new year and a fresh start, I also wanted to share some thoughts on the transitions of the pandemic from an emotional well-being standpoint. Like others, the transitions throughout the pandemic are ever changing and complex. I attended a conference recently where some research by NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) Authentic Connections was shared. It looked at anxiety and depression among ~43,000 high school students. What they found was that Anxiety has increased 11.2% since the March school closures took place. Depression has increased 10.4%. What I find most interesting to note, is that there was an actual decrease in both anxiety and depression immediately after school closures. Anxiety continued to decrease until school began again in September. When I take this research into consideration in combination with my everyday interactions with our students, I am driven to share some of my thoughts on how we can best show up for our children so that we do not see these numbers continue to rise.

When the pandemic began, many people took stock of what was most important in their lives. Health- physical and mental, family connection, a break from lots of activities and social interactions (for better or worse)… things relaxed a bit. For the most part, our students could sleep in, they could do school work on a more flexible schedule, they could go outside when they wanted, academic and extracurricular pressures were released. The loud and clear message was to care for your emotional and mental well being. Fast forward to today, and we are essentially operating in “normal” mode.

Expecting our children to go from that slowed, relaxed pace to a normal, or even more demanding schedule, is an unrealistic expectation and an incredibly stress inducing one. These times warrant a more gradual approach. Especially now, having the added trauma of the wildfires, we need to be gentle with ourselves and gentle with our children. BCD is filled with wonderful, high achieving, motivated students, who tend to be plenty hard on themselves. It is true that we need to work on endurance, persistence, organization, social skills, and all of the things that we loosened up on/ lost over the last few years… but we shouldn’t expect them to come overnight. We need to work together as administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, and community members to find that balance of not too much and not too little. In the meantime, I think that acknowledging and empathizing with our children/ students about how the pandemic has been challenging- and how their emotional and mental health are just as important now as they were at the start of the pandemic… even more so, is critical.

This article by the Seattle Children’s Hospital offers great tips for supporting youth mental wellness: https://pulse.seattlechildrens.org/supporting-youth-mental-wellness-into-post-pandemic-life/

Feel free to take a look at this blog post from Light Speed Systems about Children’s Mental Health:
https://www.lightspeedsystems.com/blog/student-mental-health-national-crisis/?utm_source=campaign-email&utm_medium=pardot&utm_campaign=UC-2201-Mental_Health_Blog_Promotion

I am wishing all of you a New and Improved 2022! My heart is full going into this year with all of you and your children. There truly is nothing like the BCD Bulldog Spirit.

With overwhelming gratitude,
Sterling Kranjcec, School Counselor