Michael Myronuk and Heathyr Sidle
Her teen felt isolated in the pandemic. She lost him because of it
04:14 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Phyllis L. Fagell, a licensed clinical professional counselor, is the author of “Middle School Matters,” the school counselor at Sheridan School and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group.

CNN  — 

While a seventh grade boy taught an eighth grade boy how to start a knitting row, a seventh grade girl put the finishing touches on her knit bunny and a diverse group of middle schoolers streamed into a classroom in Washington, DC, for knitting club.

As the pandemic drags on, the club – founded by Sheridan School teachers Christine Heiler and Laura Nakatani – has increasingly drawn students who find they benefit from starting their day with a meditative activity alongside calm, warm adults.

As the Sheridan School counselor, I recognize that creative interventions such as knitting club can help bolster students’ well-being at this challenging time. Anxiety and depression symptoms among children have doubled, and the US Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics have called the current state of children’s mental health a crisis. Communities are experiencing a shortage of pediatric mental health care providers, and few schools have adequate resources to meet kids’ growing needs.

‘My stomach worries so much it hurts’

Our children need help, but they are not often getting it. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-school counselor ratio of 250 to 1, but the ratio in 2019-2020 was 424 to 1. Meanwhile, only 40% of US schools have a dedicated registered nurse, which is equally problematic, as kids in emotional distress often have physical symptoms and visit the health room rather than a counselor. Recently, the nurse walked a young student to my office after he handed her a note that read, “My stomach worries so much it hurts.”

Now, children are returning from winter break after two years of uncertainty in the midst of a surge in Covid-19 cases, spurred by the Omicron variant. While some school districts have already switched to remote learning, students at other districts may be worried about potential school closures. More kids might still be fearful after the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan. Limited resources are a significant barrier to supporting these students, but the biggest constraint might be the emotional well-being of the adults raising, educating and working with them.