Closed Schools Create More Trauma For Students During Coronavirus School counselors say the coronavirus pandemic has so destabilized kids' lives that the result is genuinely traumatic. And closed schools make it harder for counselors to help.
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Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students

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Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students

Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Nearly all K-12 schools in the United States are now closed. We know this has been a tough transition for many teachers, but what about remote counselling? School counselors aren't just academic guides; often they're also mental health first responders and a trusted adult for kids, especially teenagers who need a sympathetic ear. As NPR's Cory Turner reports, this is hard to replicate with a laptop and a cellphone.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Imagine you're a high school counselor right now stuck at home. You're video chatting with a student who's in tears. Her senior year has just been canceled, and her parents aren't getting along. For counselor Franciene Sabens in Carbondale, Ill., this is not a hypothetical.

FRANCIENE SABENS: I mean, I want to hug them all, but I really wanted to hug that one.

TURNER: And that's not even the roughest part of the counselor's job right now. Before schools closed, Laura Ross, a counselor in Lawrenceville, Ga., says her eighth-graders were pretty easy to find.

LAURA ROSS: I mean, they just stopped by to say hello. They stopped by when they're upset just to come in and talk.

TURNER: But now Ross says connecting with students takes work.

ROSS: Through email, calling them, calling parents and checking in on students to see how they're doing.

TURNER: And remember - for lots of reasons, counselors don't just have students on speed dial. So Franciene Sabens says her go-to right now is...

SABENS: Email, email, email, email - lots of emails.

TURNER: But even that won't work for students who don't have email because they're 6 years old.

SARAH KIRK: You targeted exactly what keeps me up at night.

TURNER: Sarah Kirk is an elementary school counselor in Tulsa, Okla. She says she's making 20 to 40 phone calls a day, almost all of them to parents and caregivers, not kids. It's not just that she misses her students; she also worries that if a child's not OK at home and needs help, she won't know.

KIRK: It's hard on the school counselor's heart. That's for sure.

TURNER: This came up a lot with counselors of students of all ages. Brian Coleman is a high school counselor in Chicago, and he says - best case - when he can talk face-to-face with a student via video chat, he still might not get the truth.

BRIAN COLEMAN: And for so many students, home is a space where they're triggered or they don't feel comfortable.

EVELYN RAMIREZ: At any given point, someone can walk in.

TURNER: Evelyn Ramirez is a middle school counselor in rural Redwood Valley, Calif. And she says students aren't going to open up if the problem is sitting in the other room.

RAMIREZ: You know, Mom's down in the living room; she can probably hear my conversation. So that's something that students may face with not opening up about what's really bothering them, the stressor being at home.

TURNER: There are lots of other reasons counselors are worried, too. Parents are losing jobs. Many kids might not be getting enough food. In fact, I spoke with 10 counselors from all over the country - big city, rural, suburban - and most of them use the same word to describe what kids are going through right now.

KIRK: It's definitely a trauma.

COLEMAN: Trauma, even trauma...

SABENS: Traumatic experience of not having...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is a collective trauma that we're experiencing.

TURNER: And so for now, counselors are doing everything they can. Before the outbreak, Laura Ross in Georgia was planning an empathy word wall next to the cafeteria. So now she's moved it online. And Sara Kirk in Tulsa has been posting videos to YouTube where she reads aloud to kids and even gets help with a singalong.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. If you're happy and you know it, and you really want to show it, if you're happy...

TURNER: Cory Turner, NPR News.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Singing) If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet.

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