Kaneland school district reports toll of pandemic, learning challenges on middle, high school students’ mental health

The social emotional learning update that was shared during Monday’s Kaneland school district meeting included some sobering statistics, such as 67% of 504 plans, which make learning accommodations or adjustments to help students succeed, at the middle school and 36% of such plans at the high school are for mental illness.

“In some cases, there is a significant portion of the 504s that are related to mental health and well- being issues,” said board member Bob Mankivsky. “And it’s incumbent upon us to stay on top of that with an appropriate BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan/BMP (Behavior Management Plan) as needed as appropriate for the level. We really need to stay on top of that.”

Fran Eggleston, director of special services for Kaneland, explained that the district has learned a lot about social emotional learning because of the pandemic with children obviously attempting to learn in various environments that they likely hadn’t learned in before and spending far more time in the home environment than in the actual classroom.

“We’ve learned a lot this year and we know that social emotional learning can’t be monitored solely through data points, although we tried,” Eggleston said. “We know that a student’s reaction to a particular situation may produce a variety of responses that we also can’t predict. We also know that a student’s behavior manifests in a variety of ways based on the learning environment itself, their upbringing and the available support they have at their disposal.”

According to data shared during Monday’s presentation, 25% of full remote Kaneland students (101 total) have requested medical full remote due to anxiety. In addition, since 2017, students with the eligibility of emotional disabilities have increased by 6%.

“From my personal experience, when I’m looking at numbers of this type, I suspect that this is rather the tip of the iceberg,” Mankivsky said. “We’re going to need to move on those early on at the start of the (next) school year and head off problems before.”

Mankivsky shared that other school district are experiencing self-harm issues, including an increase to what he called “extreme levels.”

“This is one thing we really need to stay on top of as we go into the school year, more so than anything else on the social emotional side than the coping, the future anxiety,” he said. “I’ve seen that at the high school level, the anxiety about the future. Perhaps we should look into that this summer and have something ready to go.”

Calling this situation “more important than anything else we’re doing right now,” Mankivsky said that teachers need to recognize those students “who are either on the line or really have or exhibited these problems and use that recognition to get them the help and support from the district, especially coming out if we are going to go full in-person coming out of a rather traumatic (16-18 months).”

“Our teachers are obviously on the front line and they’re doing an excellent job with the observations and communications and sharing that information with our social workers and our psychologists,” Eggleston said. “They’re the ones who have the ability to do an assessment if we’re truly at the point we’re all concerned with.”