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'Our children are not the same' after COVID-19: Washington Local Schools focusing on interpersonal skills in classrooms

Supt. Kadee Anstadt said some kids are struggling with skills like problem-solving, collaboration and empathy after returning from the COVID-19 pandemic.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been challenges in the classroom for both teachers and students, a major one of those being learning loss.

But some district leaders are seeing a lack of skills that have nothing to do with academics.

The leadership team at Washington Local Schools said the pandemic not only put kids behind academically, but it also affected them socially and emotionally. 

The superintendent said some kids are struggling with skills like problem-solving, collaboration and empathy, and the district is working to change that.

"Our children are not the same," WLS Superintendent Dr. Kadee Anstadt said. "They've experienced something traumatic and whether or not we stop to realize that or we just push through and try to gut it out, they need some help navigating that."

Anstadt said since coming back after the pandemic, they noticed the kids were missing important social and emotional skills.

A recent study from the National Center for Educations Statistics showed classroom disruptions, acts of disrespect towards teachers and staff, rowdiness and prohibited use of electronics were all higher last year.

Because of this, WLS leaders felt it was necessary to place more importance on the kids and what they're going through in daily learning.

"This is as much for teachers knowing that they have to take care of themselves so that they can take care of others as it is for our kids," Anstadt said.

Local therapist and owner of the Willow Center, Erin Wiley, said these skills were taken for granted while kids were learning on a computer at home.

"Working on skills like being present, attentive, listening to your partner and waiting for your turn to speak, as simple as they are, are smart for teachers to be practicing right now because kids are out of practice and need those skills to be successful in the classroom," Wiley said.

To help, WLS is using federal grant money to get its employees trained in trauma-informed care through Starr Commonwealth, a social services organization based in Michigan.

"I think about Whitmer (High School)," Anstadt said. "It's probably the place where we need these strategies the most because it's where we have kids that went through middle school without a lot of practice in some of those skills that are really important."

The district has added two 15-minute wellness breaks during the day to allow students to decompress, among other strategies.

WLS has also placed more focus on giving students opportunities to collaborate without the pressure of thinking about classwork.

Wiley said just like muscles, these social and emotional skills need exercise or we lose them.

She also said many children don't think these skills have been affected.

"They don't recognize how rusty their skills are at working with people and how much they may have or continue to struggle emotionally because they don't have people and groups consistently in their lives," Wiley said.

Over the next five years, all the employees in the district will receive this training.

One school was trained in 2021 and two elementary schools will be trained in 2022.

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