OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Aaliyah Rodriguez, a high school junior in Leavenworth, is one of many students nationwide who have seen their grades drop while learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I had mostly all A's," Rodriguez, 17, said. "But as it progressed throughout the semester, it became a lot more harder because they kept piling on more work. So my grades started to drop quite a bit to the point where I had three F's in a few of my classes."
On a typical day, Rodriguez said, would be on Zoom for classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by homework, sometimes until midnight.
During classes, Rodriguez said she became frustrated when she couldn't see what the teacher was writing on the board. There also were times when the teacher couldn't hear her questions because of technical problems. Another layer of stress was the fear of failing and not graduating with her class.
"That's one of the biggest things any child has been working for their whole life and to know you're not going to do that. It hurts," Rodriguez said.
Her mother, Victoria Logan, said she was equally frustrated because she saw her daughter struggling to learn and feeling helpless.
"Finally I had to tell her, 'You're trying as hard as you can, you're doing what you need to do; and if in the end you don't make it through, then you did all you can do,'" Logan said.
Rodriguez's mother did the right thing according to Sondra Wallace, mental health coalition coordinator at Jewish Family Services in Overland Park.
Parent Tip No. 1: Give emotional support to struggling teens.
"We have to always, always give our kids as parents the message that we believe in you, we have hope for you and we are not giving up on you," Wallace said.
Parent Tip No. 2: Make sure students take break for meals and family time, and make those breaks fun.
"Try to be intentional about something that's lighthearted, like watching a comedy special," Wallace said. "Laughter is a wonderful medicine for anxiety and for emotional release."
Parent Tip No. 3: Make sure your child is eating nutritious foods to fuel their energy and drinking water.
"If we are hydrated with water and we have a base in our bellies for food, then we can be so much more attentive," Wallace said. "Water is probably one of the most powerful sources of energy of relief of anxiety. It's a calming tool."
Parent Tip No. 4: Have a conversation with your child to decide household chores and expectations.
Wallace said it helps children realize that parents have expectations to help around the house, while being sensitive to their needs.
Parent Tip No. 5: Help children find the best place in the home and the best posture to increase productivity for Zoom classes.
"Laying down in bed for online classes may cause the student to feel relaxed and less attentive and engaged," Wallace said. "Have your child try setting-up for class at a table and let the child determine the best location and posture that they believe is best for them to learn."
Teacher Tip No. 1: Ask students, 'How can I help?'
Wallace said it will help teachers become more innovative and creative.
Teacher Tip No. 2: Be intentional about one conversation, one connection with a student each day.
"It's important to be intentional about building, sustaining and creating relationships with our students," Wallace said. "People work hard for the people they like and love and that's human nature."
Additionally, Wallace said parents should seek professional mental health counseling for their child if that child:
- Stays in their room and avoids interaction with family and friends.
- If there are extreme changes in their eating habits, either eating excessively or hardly eating.
- If the family pediatrician recommends it. Pediatricians also can direct parents to community resources that provide no and low-cost mental health services for children and teens.
As for Rodriguez, she continued studying, received help from a friend and completed class projects, passing all of her classes last fall.
"When I found out that my grades came in and I passed all my classes, I was in tears," she said. "I was so excited."
The high school junior said her advice to parents and teachers is to listen.
"Listening is the biggest thing that they can do," she said. "Just listening and hearing us out and trying. That's huge. Trying to fix what we're talking about."
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