THINK Toolbox helps families navigate stress, challenges of pandemic education

Many families are experiencing the stresses and challenges of back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State health officials said it’s part of the disaster recovery process and introduced a new resource called the COVID-19 back-to-classroom THINK Toolbox.

It’s a one-stop page for parents, caregivers, teachers and coaches to navigate this important time of education during a disaster.

"It’s really common for kids to be anxious. It’s really common to be fearful about things or to see a little bit of behavioral regression, maybe to act out a little bit, and to kind of be out of character and just express themselves and their discomfort in that way. That’s incredibly common," said Dr. Kira Mauseth, Co-Lead for the WA DOH Behavioral Health Strike Team.

Dr. Mauseth helped develop the toolbox, and said it’s based on a lot of information and guidance the team has been working on and collecting over many disasters before the pandemic hit.

It explains how children and teens respond differently to traumatic events, outlines normal developmental milestone, the common signs of trauma and the red flags to watch for.

It even has recommendations to help children physically return to the classroom, which is an ongoing dilemma for one family in the Seattle School District.

"I didn’t attend the first day of school," said Benjamin Davis, "because I was concerned of COVID-19 and I thought it was going to affect me."

The freshman at Ingraham High School is concerned about the delta variant’s potential impact at school.

Aside from a quick trial last week for a couple periods, the 14-year-old has not been receiving schooling. 

Davis is on the autism spectrum and has an individualized education plan (IEP). 

"It’s limbo. We just don’t know what we’re going to do, and I worry as the days go on that Ben’s losing ground because he doesn’t have a lesson plan yet," said mom Janet Crisp. "He’s willing to go back, if the report comes out next week and there aren’t any cases at school. He might, you know with his anxiety and how he’s feeling, might be open to it."

His mom said if she could wave a magic wand, a hybrid learning option like last year would be ideal, but Seattle Public Schools is not offering virtual learning to older students.

"Good communication is essential, and when we have inconsistent communication or we don’t know really what the plan is or knowing what are our real concerns and worries… I honestly feel like that’s not been addressed in our situation and I’ve talked with other parents and they feel the same way," said Crisp.

Crisp said the school principal has been a helpful resource, but her family is still trying to figure out their son's education moving forward.

Dr. Mauseth is recommending all families come up with a backup plan.

"Even if you don’t feel like you have a lot of good options on the tables, sometimes making a list of those things and getting organized in your own head about it actually really does decrease your sense of concern and anxiety around what might happen and just making a plan can alleviate that," said Dr. Mauseth. "The stresses and the challenges we’re going through are part of this recovery process, and so just understanding that your child is not unique and alone, there’s not something wrong. There’s not something wrong with you. There’s not something wrong with them. It’s part of this process that we’re all going through, and to recognize what sort of supports and interventions are available that we know work and help."

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