Supporting students’ social-emotional needs is critical during the pandemic 

It’s not an overstatement to say that many students are struggling emotionally during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anger at missing out on milestone activities, loneliness because they can’t hang out with friends, concerns about family health or finances — all of these feelings are converging in a toxic mix that K-12 leaders need to be aware of as school begins this fall.

In a recent national survey, more than 75 percent of school social workers indicated that a majority of their students need serious mental health support amid the pandemic. The survey underscores the need for schools to integrate trauma-sensitive teaching, social and emotional learning (SEL), and other strategies for supporting students’ mental health needs — regardless of whether students are learning in person, online, or a combination of the two.

Even before the pandemic emerged, there was a significant unmet need for youth mental health services in the United States. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, one in five students experiences a mental health problem. Yet, up to 60 percent of these students don’t get the treatment they need, because they’re ashamed to ask for help or they lack access to professional mental health services.

There’s no doubt the coronavirus has exacerbated the problem. Students who are worried about the pandemic or its effects might have trouble focusing on their schoolwork, and they might even feel hopeless or depressed. 

Integrating social and emotional learning into instruction can help students cope during the pandemic. To assist educators in teaching students how to regulate their emotions, Education Week has published a guide to teaching social-emotional skills during the pandemic. The guide includes strategies for connecting students with caring adults, practicing emotional intelligence, and more.

In addition, educators should know how to recognize the warning signs when students are most vulnerable and might need further intervention. In remote learning classrooms, it can be challenging to spot behavioral changes and other warning signs, but this guide can help.

Having insight into students’ web searches can also warn K-12 leaders when students need mental health support. For instance, ContentKeeper’s award-winning school web filter includes real-time monitoring, analytics, and reporting to alert K-12 leaders of potentially harmful behavior before it’s too late. The solution, which works across all platforms and web browsers, uses contextual analysis to evaluate students’ web searches, so searches like “To Kill a Mockingbird” wouldn’t be flagged but “how to kill myself” would be.

After a spate of teen suicides left the community reeling, Hamilton Township in New Jersey now relies on ContentKeeper as a key element of its student safety initiatives. “The safety of our students is our utmost concern. We have to make sure they’re safe before we can educate them,” says school psychologist Jeffrey Wellington. “In talking with parents and others, I firmly believe we have helped save lives.”

To learn more about ContentKeeper’s behavioral intent alerting technology, click here. To read how Hamilton Township’s use of this feature is a critical component in the district’s suicide prevention and mental health services, click here


The former editor of eSchool News, Dennis Pierce has more than 20 years of experience writing about education and technology.