School Closures

How important is school...really?

How important is school...really? School closures. A short-term dream come true and a long-term nightmare. Pandemic-related school closures have been immensely detrimental to the mental health of children. School closures mean significantly less socialization, especially for younger kids, for whom schools are the only place where they can truly socialize. Trust me when I say that school closures were, and still are, extremely tough.

First there’s the fact of minimal socializing without school: your family is pretty much the only people you see, at least for the first few months of the pandemic. That led to a lot of pent up frustration, loneliness, and utter boredom for me and millions of other children across the globe. As if that wasn’t enough, there was the added stress of online learning. Virtual learning, as great as schools have attempted to make it, is just not the same. Online teaching and learning are both quite hard. This new style of learning leads to stress for students regarding the education they are receiving. Now as if all these problems aren’t enough, school closures also mean lack of access to numerous resources and services schools provide for millions of children:

#1: Healthcare. Schools assist in helping students gain access to the health-care system. As noted by Hoffman and Miller (2020), school nurses provide basic health care to children around the country, administering medications, conducting screening and education, addressing acute conditions, and helping to manage chronic ailments such as asthma and diabetes.10 There are an astonishingly large number of students served by school-based health clinics. A study found that in 2016-2017 over 6.3 million students and 10,629 schools were served across 2,584 clinics.11 Schools also provide essential mental health support to children and are one of the most significant establishments that address the mental health needs of children; often schools are the only place where children are given mental health services.

#2: Food. Schools aid in mitigating childhood hunger and food insecurity. As reported by one paper, in 2018 schools served 20.2 million free school lunches and 1.8 million reduced-price lunches per day as well as 14.7 million breakfasts per day.12 During the pandemic, with the onset of online school, economically insecure students would be deprived of a healthy, nutritious, and fulfilling school-provided meal 5 times a week.

#3: Countering obesity and promoting health. Schools are vital in encouraging physical activity and healthy eating for children. Students who participate in both the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program consume up to half of their daily caloric intake in school.13 Schools help to nourish children by adhering to federal and state regulations that limit the accessibility of high sugar and fat foods and drinks within schools.14 Schools also provide safe and supervised opportunities for physical activity through recess, physical education, active motor breaks, before/after school programs, and sports.15

#4: Homelessness and Child Abuse. More than 1.5 million public school students were homeless during 2017-19,16 and in 2017, about 9 out of every 1,000 children experienced maltreatment.17 Schools play a major role in identifying and connecting children experiencing homelessness to organizations or programs that offer help and resources, as well as identifying and helping children experiencing some form of abuse.

Now I know what most of you are thinking after reading this: wow, I didn’t know schools had this many responsibilities in addition to actually educating kids. It is important for us to learn all the real responsibilities of schools because this illuminates why Covid-19 had such an impact on mental health due to school-related factors. Covid-19 has resulted in severe reductions to the resources schools provide children. Without these key services, millions of students may have experienced increased stress and anxiety in addition to potential physical and mental health problems, food inaccessibility, or child abuse. Consequently, when students return to their schools, they will need the support and help of their schools more than ever.