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These Middle Schoolers Are Back In Class. How Are They Doing?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some students are starting to return to schools, friends and teachers after a long year of remote learning and sometimes no learning. But there are also masks and new rules, this transition that might be especially challenging for middle schoolers, perched as they are between burgeoning independence and still just being kids. Selena Alderson is a social and emotional support counselor in Grants Pass, Ore., and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

SELENA ALDERSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I understand that your students have been back at least partially for a few weeks. What have you seen that concerns you? What are some of their struggles? What are you looking for?

ALDERSON: So anxiety seems to be the top emotion around here lately. They're experiencing some separation anxiety because they've been home for a year with parents, siblings, you know, family members. There are plenty of new rules around with distancing and masks and what you can bring and what you can't bring and getting scanned in every morning, and there's just a lot to remember for them. And then, also, they're anxious about social interactions because they've had very minimal social interactions for the past year.

And, you know, there's also many of the life stressors that were brought on by the pandemic are still very present. You know, families have had to relocate. There's been loss of jobs creating financial difficulties within families. There's family strife and then, you know, just caring for other family members. A lot of families have had to move in together. So you've got this multigenerational household with elderly, and students are helping to take care of family members.

SIMON: Do you have advice for parents?

ALDERSON: I do. We need to provide extra time for them to process how they've experienced this pandemic. We need to talk to them over dinner, on a walk, in the car. We need to ask questions, and we need to listen.

Also, provide a routine. Kids thrive with a bit of structure. So the kids that I see flailing the most are the ones that have the least amount of structure at home.

SIMON: Yeah.

ALDERSON: They just don't know what they're doing.

And then lastly, just knowing the intense warning signs, knowing when to actually seek extra help I think is important. So when your student or when your child has a loss of hope, they'll be locked in their room. They'll never come out. They've lost the excitement over things that normally they would get excited about. And then, of course, if they're talking about suicide or self-harm, definitely, those are signs of when you need to get some extra help.

SIMON: And we should explain that if you are having these kinds of thoughts, please call the National Suicide Helpline. Ms. Alderson, have you had students or, for that matter, teachers who have said to you, look; I just don't want to be here?

ALDERSON: Definitely, definitely. There have been several examples of students showing up in the parent drop-off line who are absolutely unable to even get out of the car. There's also been other parents who I've seen pulling into the drop-off line, and they drive right on through and keep going and drive right out of the parking lot. And so, yes.

We will follow up with a phone call, just try to get them to know that they are safe here, but also that this is a really fun and exciting place to be. This week is Spirit Week. And I think just get them here to campus, and then once we get them here, we can start small. If they can only be here for an hour, that's great. And then the next week, maybe we'll do a little bit more and more as we go.

SIMON: Well, a good Spirit Week to you, Ms. Alderson, and to your students and all families.

Selena Alderson is a counselor at North Middle School in Grants Pass, Ore. Thanks so much for being with us.

ALDERSON: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.