BY DOUGLASS RUTH
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by all of us in one way or another. We have all adjusted to the new reality that has turned our lives upside down. High school and college students are particularly affected by these ongoing challenges. School closures have not occurred on this scale in our lifetimes; this is uncharted territory for us as a modern community.
When we think of school, we of course focus on the educational aspect. Students, teachers and caregivers now are forced to navigate learning without the structure of the school system. Trying to manage assignments without routine and structure is a massive undertaking. It is impressive and astounding how teachers have stepped into this new academic arena and created lesson plans, Google Hangouts and office hours for their students under the pressure of a global pandemic and panicking parents.
However, most students don’t just experience school as an arena to engage with academics. It is a place of social development and recognition. Students interact with each other, often building lifelong bonds through the activities they participate in though friendships, collaboration and joint activities. As a society, we place expectations on our students that are now challenged. How does one prepare for the “next step” when the supports we rely on are stripped away? It’s harder to feel prepared for continuing education when you haven’t had the opportunity to complete the last round.
Just as important, students are missing out on rituals of recognition so key to building self-esteem and cementing milestones. Not being able to participate in commencement ceremonies, senior proms or competitions can create a social and experiential void. This is the experience of loss and grief. It can be hard to not be able to have a proper goodbye to peers, instructors and the physical space they have occupied over the last few years. Rituals are important aspects of our culture and for some students, they may be the first in their families to graduate. Furthermore, students are managing the unknowns of a different job and education market.
How does one manage all of these changes and unknowns? How do we provide a space for this transitional experience that is unlike anything we ourselves have experienced? As with managing grief in general, basic needs should be prioritized. This means nourishing our bodies and minds. Not surprisingly, it often comes down to eating, sleep and exercise. All areas have been disrupted. We operate at our best when we have nutritious food in our bodies. We need sleep, especially when faced with symptoms of anxiety and depression impacted by rapid changes in our environment. Exercise and movement continue to be important.
Lastly, we can create our own closure. Many creative celebrations and rituals have stepped up over the past few months. Zoom graduation parties have taken place. Students, educators and others have delivered inspirational commencement speeches. Social distancing proms have arrived with themes and décor to match. The takeaway? Students, educators and caregivers are amazingly creative and resilient. While this may not be the way we envisioned graduation, it is certainly still an incredible milestone where current students and graduates are demonstrating the leadership to guide the way forward into the future.
Douglass Ruth is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional. As clinical director of Jewish Family & Child Service, Doug supervises mental health counselors and provides counseling and mental health support for individuals, families and groups.
Jewish Family and Child Service strives to offer support for community members navigating the challenges of COVID-19. For more information: jfcs-portland.org/covid-19 or 503-226-7079.
Community Connection: The one constant that everyone has in common is that everything is swiftly changing. Weekly Zoom conversations explore challenges and anxieties of pandemic living: Meeting ID: 606 166 438.
Emergency Aid: (see related story)
Disability support, Holocaust survivor resources and counseling programs have been modified to meet the needs of clients while meeting physical distancing protocols.
JFCS provides telephone and tele-therapy (video and audio) support to clients. Extra support for existing clients experiencing increased symptoms of distress includes delivering food and ensuring weekly connection with providers.