Addressing Students’ Emotional Needs During School Dismissal

By Elias McQuaid | Psychologist, Park City Learning Center

Children of all ages may have strong feelings and emotions during or after disasters or emergencies like the COVID-19 outbreak. Some children may react right away, while others may show signs of difficulty much later. Reactions will also be unique to each child depending on their exposure and their history or experiences.

Children react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with a disaster calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.

Elias McQuaid, Psychologist

The emotional impact of an emergency on a child depends on a child’s characteristics and experiences, the social and economic circumstances of the family and community, and the availability of local resources. Not all children respond in the same ways. Some might have more severe, longer-lasting reactions.

The following specific factors may affect a child’s emotional response:

– Direct involvement with the emergency

– Previous traumatic or stressful event

– Belief that the child or a loved one may die

– Loss of a family member, close friend, or pet

– Separation from caregivers

– Physical injury

– How parents and caregivers respond

– Family resources

– Relationships and communication among family members

– Repeated exposure to mass media coverage of the emergency and aftermath

– Ongoing stress due to the change in familiar routines and living conditions

– Cultural differences

– Community resilience

As a school district, we want to help our students and families as best we can during these stressful times. There are several things we can do to help our students and they include:

– Stay calm and reassure your children.

– Talk to children about what is happening in a way that they can understand.   Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age.

– Provide opportunities to talk about feelings and practice relaxation strategies.

– Engage in whole family stress relief activities.

– Don’t neglect regular exercise and movement. Regular exercise has many benefits—it builds strength and cardiovascular health, releases endorphins, and improves sleep, all of which lead to decreased stress and anxiety. Even short bursts of movement offer benefit, and moving as a family offers a feeling of connection, which has also been linked to reduced stress. So, join your children in a quick game of tag or a living room dance party when you’re short on time; and shoot hoops, take the dog on a long walk, or find a family-friendly bike trail when you have more time for longer stress-relieving outdoor recreation.

What Not To Do

– Expect children to be brave or tough.

– Make children discuss the event before they are ready.

– Get angry if children show strong emotions.

– Get upset if they begin bed-wetting, acting out, or thumb-sucking

Common Reactions

The common reactions to distress will fade over time for most children. Children who were directly exposed to a disaster can become upset again; behavior related to the event may return if they see or hear reminders of what happened. If children continue to be very upset or if their reactions hurt their schoolwork or relationships then parents may want to talk to a professional or have their children talk to someone who specializes in children’s emotional needs. Learn more about common reactions to distress:

For infants to 2 year olds: Infants may become more cranky. They may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more.

For 3 to 6 year olds: Preschool and kindergarten children may return to behaviors they have outgrown. For example, toileting accidents, bed-wetting, or being frightened about being separated from their parents/caregivers. They may also have tantrums or a hard time sleeping.

For 7 to 10 year olds: Older children may feel sad, mad, or afraid that the event will happen again. Peers may share false information; however, parents or caregivers can correct the misinformation. Older children may focus on details of the event and want to talk about it all the time or not want to talk about it at all. They may have trouble concentrating.

For pre-teens and teenagers: Some preteens and teenagers respond to trauma by acting out. This could include reckless driving, and alcohol or drug use. Others may become afraid to leave the home. They may cut back on how much time they spend with their friends. They can feel overwhelmed by their intense emotions and feel unable to talk about them. Their emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents/caregivers or other adults.

For special needs children: Children who need continuous use of a breathing machine or are confined to a wheelchair or bed, may have stronger reactions to a threatened or actual disaster. They might have more intense distress, worry or anger than children without special needs because they have less control over day-to-day well-being than other people. The same is true for children with other physical, emotional, or intellectual limitations. Children with special needs may need extra words of reassurance, more explanations about the event, and more comfort and other positive physical contact such as hugs from loved ones.

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Content Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html

Additional Resources

The Emotional Impact of Disaster on Children and Families https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/disasters_dpac_PEDsModule9.pdf

“Coping After a Disaster” children’s book https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/readywrigley/documents/RW_Coping_After_a_Disaster_508.pdf

Home Management Strategies for Panic Disorder https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/home-management-strategies-for-panic-disorder/

Three Ways for Children to Try Meditation at Home

Helping Children Deal with Change and Stress https://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/helping-children-deal-with-change-and-stress

Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Disasters and Other Traumatic Events: What Parents, Rescue Workers, and the Community Can Do https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/helping-children-and-adolescents-cope-with-disasters-and-other-traumatic-events/index.shtml

January's Counselor Connection: Attendance and Why it Matters

“Attendance Works,” an organization whose mission is to “advance student success and help close equity gaps by reducing chronic absence,” cites the following:

– Absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance throughout the school year.Half the students who miss 2-4 days in September go on to miss nearly a month (20 days) of school.

– Poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of third grade or are held back.

– Research shows that missing 10 percent of a student’s school days, which is considered “chronically absent” (18 days in PCSD) negatively affects a student’s academic performance.

– When students improve their attendance rates, they improve their academic prospects and chances for graduating.

– By 6th grade chronic absence becomes a leading indicator that a student will drop out of high school.

Read the full issue of January’s Counselor Connection here. English | Spanish

'Counselor Connection' Offers Tips on Coping with Holiday Stress

The December issue of “Counselor Connection” offers important information on how to cope with stress. Most people experience stress and anxiety from time to time. Stress is any demand placed on your brain or physical body. People can report feeling stressed when multiple competing demands are placed on them. The feeling of being stressed can be triggered by an event that makes you feel frustrated or nervous. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, or unease. It can be a reaction to stress, or it can occur in people who are unable to identify significant stressors in their life.

Learning and emotions are connected. But how? According
to Yale Professor Marc Brackett, “How we feel – bored, curious, stressed, etc. – influences whether we are present, in ‘fight or flight’ mode, or able to process and integrate information.”

The holidays in particular can be stressful. The end of a school semester or trimester, along with “extra” holiday demands can put students as well as parents on overload. Learning to manage stress is an important skill that once learned, will serve us well.

Here are some strategies that may help:

– Keep a positive attitude.

– Accept that there are events that you cannot control.

– Learn and practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or tai-chi.

– Exercise . Your body can fight stress better when it is fit.

– Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.

– Set limits; learn to say no to requests that lead to stress.

– Make time for hobbies, interests, and relaxation.

– Get enough rest and sleep.

– Seek out social support and spend time with friends.

Read the full December issue here: English | Spanish

New Issue of ‘Counselor Connection’ focuses on technology

Park City School District promotes digital citizenship and internet safety in a variety of ways. Please contact your school’s counselors or administrators if you have questions.

According to Cyber Savvy Kids:

– The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10-years-old.

– 64% of kids have access to the internet via their own devices, compared to 42% in 2012.

– 39% of kids get a social media account at 11-years-old.

– On average, children in the 4th and 5th grades have their hands on a powerful device that leaves them unsupervised and open to a whole lot of trouble. Whatever trouble they can get into, you can be sure that a phone will magnify that trouble 100x.

Phones have become a ubiquitous part of ours and our childrens’ lives, providing instant access to the internet. And while they are incredibly convenient for staying connected, there are some potential negative impacts we can’t overlook. Cell phones impact learning, relationships, and overall well being in ways that none of us could have predicted before cell phones (BCP.) And because they’ve never been without phones and internet access, digital natives are challenging our parenting and teaching in dramatic ways.

So how can we help our children develop healthy cell phone and online habits? How can we keep them safe, gain that all-important sense of belonging and prevent them from developing substance abuse or mental health problems? How can schools and parents partner so students can benefit from the innovative technological and educational opportunities an online world provides?

There are terrific resources for parents in our second issue of Counselor Connection. In addition, we want to share what counselors and social workers in our schools are doing related to each Connection topic to promote academic, social, emotional, and behavioral wellness.

Read the full newsletter here in English, or in Spanish.

School counselors introduce inaugural issue of ‘Counselor Connection’

Beginning this month, Park City High counselors, along with counselors throughout the school district, invite parents/guardians, educators, and community members to review the new “Counselor Connection: Parenting Tips for Today.” This month’s issue focuses on vaping.

Park City School District works with students and families to minimize/eliminate the use of e-cigarettes in or around school campuses. If devices are found, cartridges are tested to be certain there are not illegal substances such as THC in the device.

Devices, as they are not permitted on site, are confiscated. We work with students and families on both educational intervention and age appropriate consequences.

Please contact your school administrators if you have additional questions about vaping or the use of e-cigarettes on campus. 

Read the full newsletter here: English | Espanol

Parley’s Park Elementary Cuts Ribbon on New Greenhouse on Earth Day

Parley’s Park Elementary School (PPES)cut the ribbon this morning to open the school’s first outdoor classroom, a greenhouse where K-5 students experience science and nutrition education.

“We are very excited to create outdoor, hands-on learning experiences for our students,” said Principal David Gomez.“This greenhouse provides our teachers a new tool to create fun outdoor STEM learning.”

At the grand opening EATS volunteers taught students from kindergarten and third grade how to plant seeds and helped them pot tomatoes and herbs that seeded the greenhouse. “EATS is excited for the first Park City school greenhouse and the essential life skills opportunities the garden provides students K-5,” said Meaghan Miller-Gitlin, EATS ExecutiveDirector.

This outdoor classroom didn’t happen overnight, it took significant fundraising and staff/volunteer dedication from both the PPES PTA, Park City School District, and the EATS organization.“The process for the greenhouse started five years ago with a committed group of PTA parents who began working with EATS to expand the classroom to the outdoors,”said PPES parent Sara Sergent. “I am very excited to see it come to life, especially on Earth Day.”

This greenhouse is a first of the school district and is seen as an outdoor education pilot initiative. “The greenhouse is a great visual representation of where the Park City School District is heading with our master plan and integrating outdoor education into each school,” said Superintendent Jill Gildea.


Contact: Brandi Connolly | Parley’s Park Elementary PTA | 214-448-9651, parleyspta@gmail.com

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District Nurses Educate Parents About Measles Virus

The measles virus has gained a lot of interest recently due to the public health crisis in the Pacific Northwest and the increase in cases worldwide. There are no cases of measles in the community, but “because Park City has so many who travel on a regular basis, we want to offer some reminders about the virus,” said Suzanne Tanner, district nurse coordinator.

Measles are common in other parts of the world, including countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. Unvaccinated people who become infected in other countries often bring measles into the United States. The public is reminded that if they travel to areas that have seen an outbreak, please be observant of signs and symptoms of disease. It is important to isolate the ill person, wear a mask and notify your health care provider and school nurse.

According to the Center for Disease Control “measles spread when a person infected with the measles virus breathes, coughs, or sneezes. It is very contagious. You can catch measles just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to two hours after that person is gone. And you can catch measles from an infected person even before they have a
measles rash.”

District nurses offer the following reminders:

  • Symptoms begin with a fever, runny nose, red, watery eyes, and a cough. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a tell tale red rash breaks out on the head/face spreading down the body. 
  • Transmission is highly contagious spreading through the air from an infected person to another through coughing and sneezing.  Droplets can remain in the air for up to two hours.
  • At-risk individuals include infants, people with weakened immunity and unvaccinated individuals.  The measles vaccine is 97 percent effective in protecting against the disease, however children do not receive this vaccine until age one. 

Tanner said the best way to prevent measles is to immunize. Contact Summit County Health Department for more information, 435-333-1500, or visit the CDC’s website.

Board Seeks Input on Student Wellness Policy

The Park City Board of Education is updating its students wellness policy and is asking the community, parents, students, and educators for feedback.

The district is committed to providing a school environment that enhances learning and development of lifelong wellness practices. It recognizes the relationship between adequate nutrition, physical activity and academic achievement.

The policy, which can be viewed here, outlines the district’s nutrition programs and promotion, nutrition guidelines for all foods available on campus during the school day, and nutrition education.

The wellness policy is posted for its required 20 days during which time the district accepts public comment. Feedback can be sent to Lorie Pearce, lpearce@pcschools.us prior to Dec. 17. The board anticipates adopting the policy at its Dec. 18 regular session.

Police and District Ask Parents to Help Ensure Drug-Free Schools

Student safety and well being is paramount. The Park City community cares about the health and well-being of each student.

Park City School District Superintendent Jill Gildea is asking parents to work with the district and law enforcement to ensure safe and drug-free schools remain the norm.

Vaping devicesNationally and locally, schools are confiscating a variety of drug paraphernalia including vaping devices. Since the start of the school year, Park City School District staff have recovered drug paraphernalia in a variety of vaping devices (see photo).

“It is not appropriate for students to bring tobacco, alcohol, or drugs to the learning environment,” said Superintendent Jill Gildea. “Our students have a right to expect a safe and drug-free learning environment. Prevention education, disciplinary consequences, and appropriate interventions and supports are provided to students who are found to have brought e-cigarettes, tobacco, or any drug or look-alike substance to schools.”

One such incident occurred today when a 9th grade student was transported to the hospital after a medical incident. The student allegedly smoked THC from a vaping pen. The 9th-grade student who provided the THC was referred to police.

Park City Police remind parents to check their students’ backpacks, bedrooms, and cars for drug and vaping paraphernalia. Those parents who need additional resources related to substance abuse should contact the Summit County Health Department.

“It’s important we get this information in the hands of parents,” said Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter. “We cannot deal with the issue alone. We need to enlist the help of parents and peers.”

If anyone locates anything suspicious they should contact law enforcement immediately.


News Media Contacts:

– Melinda Colton, Park City School District Communications Director, 801-631-7770

–Capt. Phil Kirk, Park City Police Department PIO, 435-731-0082

New Lunch Menu Piloted at Jeremy Ranch Elementary

Students attending Jeremy Ranch Elementary will get the chance to taste 24 new lunch items during the month of October. The school is piloting the district’s new menu that provides healthier options for students.

The new menu officially kicks off Monday, Oct. 1, during lunch that is served from 11 to 12:30 p.m. The menu will feature  roasted chicken thigh’s with homemade barbecue sauce, homemade potato salad, Kodiak Cakes cornbread, a salad bar featuring fresh fruits and vegetables, freshly prepared sandwiches, and a hummus and pita plate. Student, parents, and staff are invited Monday to try the new menu items for themselves. (Student meals are $2.25 and adult meals are $3.50.)

R.J. Owen, director of Child Nutrition Services, said the menu items will feature more scratch cooking and more offerings of fruits and vegetables. “Every day we will serve 2-3 fruit and 5-6 vegetable options during lunch. The district’s goal is to make Park City School District a leader in the field of school nutrition.”

Owen also said the benefits of school lunch include: prepared hot meals, nutritionally balanced meals, and improved attendance and test scores through a healthier diet.

Adding healthier options to the menu is expensive, Owen said, but can be sustainable over time if the district increases the number of students participating in the breakfast and lunch programs. He invites students to try school lunch, especially in October when new items are being featured.

Some of the homemade items that will be piloted at Jeremy Ranch Elementary in October include: Hawaiian chicken and fresh vegetable stir fry, cheesy chicken pasta with basil, fresh roasted flatbread, sesame noodles with chicken and fresh vegetables, and shredded pork tacos.

Click here to view the October lunch menu at Jeremy Ranch Elementary.