2020 will go down in history as the year America forgot about kids. As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the U.S., I want to draw your attention to some other alarming surges. The first is truancy. Alabama’s Department of Education revealed at least 5,000 students have completely left school. The Philadelphia Enquirer reported that half of Philadelphia’s public school students did not even log in for class during the pandemic last spring. Similarly, the city of Houston’s largest school district cannot account for thousands of students this fall, which is reflected by a 30,000 student decrease in enrollment this year. In my own hometown of South Bend, IN, I have spoken to educators who tell me a similar story. Large amounts of students are not logging in or showing up. We are in the middle of creating the largest drop-out rate in American history! Where are the alarm bells?
Early indicators reveal that virtual learning is an absolute disaster. According to the Daily Mail, Fairfax Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school district, just announced they have seen an 83% increase in F’s. Middle school students are the most impacted with a mind-blowing 300% increase in F’s. English learners had 383% more F’s and Hispanic middle schoolers saw an increase of 400%. Is Fairfax an anomaly? Certainly not. St. Paul Public Schools posted a 40% increase in failing grades this school year and Houston ISD says more than 40% of its students are earning failing grades in at least two classes! Where are the alarm bells?
There are many other alarming surges like the skyrocketing anxiety, depression, and suicide resulting from the isolation we have forced our kids into. The combination of isolation and trauma handicaps kids for LIFE (unless there is targeted intervention). They are referred to by mental health professionals as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). According to the CDC these ACE’s have a “tremendous impact on future violence, victimization, and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity.”
Are kids resilient enough to bounce back? Yes, but it will take action. First, schools must reopen as quickly and safely as possible. Second, government officials, parents, and educators must have an intentional plan (SEL intervention) to address the social-emotional impact the pandemic has had. The plan must include programs and curriculums that teach kids the resiliency skills needed overcome the emotional baggage they carry. I hear the stories, meet with the families, and see the results. I also lead an organization, Five Star Life, that specializes in developing resources teachers can use that are specifically designed to target student and teacher mental health by teaching them how to develop a healthy mindset. Last spring, we offered our curriculum for free and reached over 278,000 students across America. However, with around 50 million students in the U.S., we have more work to do. It is all about results and our data proves that the longer kids are exposed to our program, higher grades, decreases in behavioral issues, and better school attendance are seen.
What can we do? First, sound the alarm to your local officials to demand they follow the science and allow schools to reopen. Second, make sure your local school is equipped with specific SEL plans and interventions to make sure kids bounce back. Finally, consider sharing what we do with your local school. For sixteen years we have helped schools develop strategies, train staff, and implement dynamic curriculum. Every lesson teaches kids how to overcome fear whether it is the fear of the unknown, rejection, being hurt, failure, or fear that they simply do not have what it takes. Each lesson provides practical steps they can take to overcome their fears by adopting age old values and skills that work! For the educators reading this, our curriculum is in alignment with CASEL competencies and state academic standards.
History will remember 2020 as the year America forgot about kids. Let us make 2021 the year America remembered and prioritized kids, healed a generation, and saved our nation.
Seth Maust is the Executive Director and President of Five Star Life, a 501(c)(3) organization located in Elkhart, Indiana. With over 20 years of experiencing working directly with students and educators, Seth and his qualified team have created cutting edge SEL curriculum, impacting thousands of students per year. By partnering with schools throughout the country, Five Star Life is changing the face of education by changing the mindsets of students and culture inside school buildings.