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'I can see on our students' faces, they're exhausted' | Local school leaders discuss challenges ahead for staff, students amid pandemic learning

Though students and staff alike adapted amid COVID-19, emotional trauma poses a challenge to academic success. Here's what local school leaders are planning to help.

TOLEDO, Ohio — This year has been stressful for students and staff in our local schools. The pandemic showed us that no two weeks would be the same. 

And unfortunately, some believe the year ahead may be even harder when it comes to stress and mental health.

The pandemic created an on-again, off-again, mask-wearing, socially-distant, in-class, out-of-class, hybrid learning, Zoom and gloom, COVID-cancel-ladened sports seasons - overall, a time where students, faculty, and staff had to learn to adapt again and again.

"I think the demands are going to be just as great as they were this year,” said Sue Rowe, acting director of Positive School Climate for Toledo Public Schools. “And then on top of that - the academic demands." 

In an interview with some of the people leading the charge for TPS, we discussed the year ahead, and they say it’s a year that will be tough - presenting challenges at every turn.

"We know that our students are not only coming with backpacks full of school supplies, but they're also bringing trauma along with them - based on all the things they've seen this year,” said Heather Baker, executive director of Student Intervention & Support with Toledo Public Schools. “With us being shut down and not being in school, daily they've experienced a lot of trauma. We know that, and we're preparing for that." 


And they say they've trained for this - recognizing when something isn't right.

“We're gonna have to figure out where the kids are - where they're struggling at - the differences that they have,” Sue Rowe said. “But we're also gonna have to look at their social-emotional needs - what's occurred with them while they've been out of school (and) now that they're back in school and learning how to reacclimate themselves to socializing.”


But it's not just the young ones who are going to be in need of support. It’s the adults in the schools, too. 

Stephanie Teamer is a school counselor at Rogers High School and she says many of TPS’ educators are very empathetic, but that it’s a two-way street.

“So when you're doing that, and you're also going through something too, because we've had loss and we've had grief too,” Teamer said. “Leaving, you know, one day we're here, one day we're not ... We love our kids, too; now I don't see them anymore. In the midst of giving out empathy, we need it back too."

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TPS is not alone with these concerns. School leaders with Bedford Public Schools also believe getting back to normal this fall will be taxing on everyone. Bedford Superintendent Carl Shultz told us fatigue is a big part of this. 

“You know - we're all tired, I can see on our students' faces, they're exhausted,” Shultz said. “They're going to need initial support. So as we plan for next year - no matter what our schedule looks like - we are fully intending to have a traditional schedule next year without a reduction in days."


Studies indicate the pandemic, school closures, and social distancing took a substantial emotional toll on our youth. 

They say it's actually a form of trauma, and the teachers are the ones on the front line to handle a lot of stuff outside of what’s in books.

"I think that it's become very, very much a part of who they are now,” Teamer said. “Schools are going to take care of us - attendance-wise, they're going to take care of us; physically, they're going to take care of us in our social-emotional needs … and then on top of that, we're going to do the reading and the math.”

RELATED: Pediatrician gives tips on empowering kids to express their emotions in a healthy way after a year filled with change

School leaders say TPS leans on partnerships with outside agencies to provide extra support systems for students, teachers and staff. And they say they know that the extra support will be needed in the fall because these lessons need to go beyond the classroom.

"It's not just about academics, we're trying to wrap around the whole life. What happened to you in your life? How can we look at that - and figure out how can we help you find solutions to help you deal with that trauma and have you move on with the rest of your life," Teamer said.

Sue Rowe said education, in general, is stressful anytime. But she added, “you know that coupled with the pandemic and what we just went through this year - just the changes - and how to adapt, keeping the students engaged - taking care of your own mental health - own family - trying to balance that - it's been a real tightrope."

TPS leaders also hope parents and students take advantage of summer school - so that the transition in the fall isn't so tough.

RELATED: Toledo Public Schools offering summer school to all students

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