School and the Covid Generation
July 26th, 2021
More than a year later, as we had feared, we are starting to see and feel the repercussions of the school closure pandemic phenomenon. The K shaped recovery of the economic pandemic is also playing out similarly in the school system. Last year, private schools stayed open while public schools shuttered. Of those in public school systems, many that could afford one, hired tutors to bridge the academic dysfunction of zoom education. The gap between the rich and poor just widened like never before right before our eyes. Regardless of the intent behind the outcome, we are now here. It serves no purpose to blame teachers unions or local governments or parents living in fear or any other publicized reason to date.
We are Americans and we must now roll up our sleeves and begin the process of bridging this gap again. These children deserve our total and unwavering support.
The consequences of the pandemic have left a childhood mental health nightmare behind. "The proportion of emergency room visits related to mental health among kids 12 to 17 increased 31% from 2019 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although overall suicide deaths haven’t increased during the pandemic, as many feared, teens are making more attempts. ERs treated 50% more adolescent girls and 4% more boys for suspected suicide attempts in February and March 2021 than in those months the year before. Diagnoses of obsessive-compulsive disorder have soared 41% among girls 12 to 18, according to a June report from Epic Health Research Network. Diagnoses of eating disorders have jumped 38% among girls and 5% among boys." (Szabo L. 2021)
The consequences of the mental stress will have lifelong implications for success and mental health as has been shown over and over in study. Mental stress also has profound downstream effects on metabolism as chronic elevations in cortisol and fight or flight hormones drives systemic inflammation, hyperglycemia and atherosclerosis. The children and therefore society will be paying for these failures for years and decades to come as each child struggles to regain mental health, physical health and a functional place in society as an adult.
A large percentage of American school children rely on school nutrition programs for basic nourishment. While I have major problems with our national school lunch quality, at least they had a consistent food source that was not all junk food. During the pandemic, our clinic witnessed a massive increase in weight gain among the poorest American children likely due to sedentary zoom activity coupled to fear of being outside. Add to this that the poorest among us tend to eat more government subsidized high calorie, low quality standard American processed foods and we have a calamity of physical health. This will be a very difficult situation for us all moving forward as it is very easy for a child to gain weight and become inflamed metabolically, whereas, the reversal of this process is profoundly more difficult.
This article can go on and on about this well documented nightmare, but I would rather focus on the solutions. Over the past 40 COVID newsletters, there is a large body of evidence regarding the negative outcomes of COVID on our youth.
Here are some ideas:
1) Offer to tutor a child in math, reading, or any subject that you feel confident that you can help with. There are non profit companies out there that can arrange these meetings. Look into your local regions non profit groups and sign up. Your teenage children could be great tutors as well which serves dual roles as a giver of self and a provider of a gift of knowledge.
2) Write a letter to your state and federal officials asking them to take a hard look at children's nutrition services as we have a calorie overload and quality issue and nothing more. Sample data to add to the letter. You may quote any part of this document. Consider donating food or money to a local food bank that provides food to underprivileged children. Our children deserve the best of everything when it comes to school education, nourishment, activity and so on. We do not have a tax base issue that would preclude providing high quality nourishment. According to the CBO, the US brought in 3.5 trillion tax dollars in 2019. Enough said.
3) As per Dr. Danny Benjamin and the research of other specialists, we have no reason to ever close schools again to in person learning as we are fully aware that masking and vaccinations are effective measures to control the spread of SARS2. Therefore, we must resist all efforts that prevent children from being in school at a grassroots level.
4) Consider being a big brother or big sister to an impoverished child in any capacity that you can.
5) Make sure that your children and every child that you meet or interact with knows that they are loved, heard and made to feel safe to explore the world again. We need to tell them that COVID is NOT a big risk to them. We need to tell them that IF they have to wear masks, it is for the common good and not based on risk as the science has steadfastly proven in children, especially, those under 10 years of age.
6) Consider encouraging schools to have small groups mixing all levels of skill sets so that the children that are farther behind learn by listening to the others and collaborating together on the outcome so as not to be put in remedial classes that could stagnate growth. I think of this as the lead from the top model instead of reducing education to the lowest level for safety of stress. This generally fails on all accounts. Read this article for more. Over my years of education, there was always a benefit to small group learning. Invariably, each person had a strength and a weakness that was pushed to its beneficial limit in the group learning setting.