By Anju Miura
BU News Service
BOSTON – With schools and day care programs closed for the remainder of the school year, experts say remote learning and social distancing will continue to affect the mental health of both children and adults.
To that end, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has provided educational and mental health resources for both families and educators.
“This is far from an ideal situation and I’m sure that there is no ‘children’ or ‘adults,’” said state Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley. “We’re all social animals, and being confined to one’s home presents a challenge for everyone.”
Peisch, chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, said students face a variety of issues depending on their families, and lawmakers have been working with school districts to provide guidelines and support based on each municipality’s needs.
“I’m sure there are places where not everyone is getting what they would have gotten had they been in school,” Peisch said, adding that some students face academic challenges while others experience food insecurity.
“We know that’s not a perfect system,” added state Rep. Carolyn Dykema, D-Holliston. “But we’ve been trying, and the educational system has been trying, to give parents and teachers more tools to be able to engage children in educational content as a way to keep them busy and active.”
Although many schools and teachers have gotten used to the new normal of remote learning, some parents still struggle to take care of children while working remotely or on the front lines.
Jessica Twardowski, a registered nurse at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and a mother of two, is no exception.
“It’s just like your switch is going on 24/7,” she said. “[I’m] either doing my work as a nurse or being a parent and a teacher at home. You really never get that down time that you were used to.”
Although Twardowski enjoys more time spending with her children and appreciates support from her husband, teachers and friends, the pandemic poses many challenges, particularly as she completed her Master’s program last month.
Working in the labor and delivery unit, she is not in close contact with COVID-19 patients. But she has been worried about the possibility of exposing her family.
“We’ve had some positive patients, so that’s always a concern,” she said, adding that she has been careful not to infect her family and others by changing her shoes and taking a shower immediately after her shifts.
“I am concerned about it, but I also feel like I don’t have a lot of control over this,” said Carly Grant, a mother of four, whose husband works on the front lines at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.
Grant manages to take care of her children and work remotely as a cancer genetic counselor at Massachusetts General Hospital. But she is apprehensive for her husband when hospitals run out of personal protective equipment.
“I think my stress level hasn’t maxed out yet because things are still relatively under control,” she said.
“I try to parent with respect. It’s a little harder to do when you feel like you’re not getting a break ever,” said Christina Hannigan, a mother of three and co-founder of Mommying Is Hard, which has moved its monthly meetings online for parents in MetroWest and now meets twice a week to share struggles and successes of parenthood.
Twardowski and Grant, who participate in the organization’s remote meeting, said talking to other parents helps them ease stress and concerns to raise children during the pandemic.
“Some of these grassroots efforts like these online communities are not necessarily run by the government, but by folks in the community who know their communities best,” said Dykema.
“I think I’m among the luckiest in all this, when it comes to the amount of stress,” Hannigan said, adding she experiences less stress than others working on the front lines or experiencing unemployment. “Particularly for the parents who both work full time and manage homeschooling on top of that, that’s a lot of stress.”
Children also show signs of stress as they cannot interact with their peers and teachers, said Twardowski. She became reluctant to go work and leave her 5-year-old son at home as she goes to the hospital to complete a 12-hour shift every week, adding the boy told her, ‘I wish you could just stay home every day and not go to work.’
“They have their ups and downs,” said Grant, adding her 6-year-old twin daughters miss going to kindergarten and sometimes cry, while her 8-year-old son finds it hard to engage in online learning due to his introverted personality.
Grant is also concerned over the impact of remote learning on children’s academic skills and internet safety.
“What are the long-term effects going to be?” she asked.
Peisch said legislators have been working to address a wide range of educational issues throughout the state.
“This varies dramatically, not just from district to district but school to school, [and] sometimes classroom to classroom,” she said, adding that some schools integrate physical activity into online learning while other districts have a lack of internet access and deliver remote learning packets to each household.
“I think everybody may have high ideals, and then you do the best you can in a time of crisis,” said Hannigan.
This article was originally published on The MetroWest Daily News.