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Two years into the pandemic, the student mental health crisis is finally getting the attention it deserves. On the biggest political stage, President Joe Biden used part of his State of the Union address to urge all Americans to step up in support of students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Let’s address mental health — especially with our kids, whose lives and education have been turned upside down,” Biden said, later adding that “we can all play a part — sign up to be a tutor or a mentor.” “
This call to action could not come at a more urgent time. While it may take years to know the true toll the pandemic is having on students’ mental health and well-being, the immediate impact is staggeringly clear: increased Depression, anxiety and isolation rates in young people, and a rise in psychiatric emergency departments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention January data suggest that “the psychological impact of the pandemic may be particularly high in adolescent girls.”
Taking on such a big challenge can feel daunting. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, even a stable and supportive relationship with an adult can make a big difference for students. Connecting every young person to a supportive adult is a critical first step in addressing these mental health and learning recovery challenges.
Fortunately, there are actions anyone can take to support this work. Here are three ways individuals and schools can meet Biden’s challenge and provide stable relationships and support for children:
Volunteer to be a mentor or tutor.
Implicit in Biden’s call to Americans is a recognition that the responsibility to meet this challenge should not rest solely with teachers and school staff. Yes, even as federal pandemic aid helped Schools are hiring more counselors and social workers, many schools are struggling to meet students’ mental health and learning needs.
That’s why it’s so important that Americans of all backgrounds work to ensure that every young person has a trusted ally in their corner by becoming a mentor or tutor.
With opportunities across the country, becoming a mentor or tutor has never been easier. through the READY SET campaign, an initiative launched last year to increase volunteer engagement with students and schools, volunteers can find mentoring, tutoring, and AmeriCorps opportunities near them. There are even virtual mentoring opportunities that allow mentors and students to network despite geographic and other barriers.
Schrauth and Shapiro: Virtual mentoring has been invaluable during the pandemic. Keeping it going can bridge the gap for the one in three students who need the help of a mentor
Advocate legislation to expand quality youth programs.
Relationship-centered recovery may require policy changes. One in three young people in the US turns 19 without a mentor outside of their family. Federal laws can help meet this need by providing funds for schools and community organizations to expand mentoring and tutoring programs. For example, the Youth Advancement Act would create a comprehensive federal grant program to provide essential support to this vulnerable demographic.
You can see other legislation, view your representative’s voting record on these issues and contact them Mentor’s Action Center.
Use COVID-19 tools to support relational schools.
Now is the time for district and school administrators to use the historic investment in education contained in America’s bailout plan to foster connection in schools. In addition to investing in school-based mental health staff, partnerships with local community organizations can provide quality after-school programs, as well as mentoring and tutoring for students.
Promising work is already being done in communities across the country. In Boston, for example, a partnership between local schools and non-profit organizations literatures connects older adult volunteers with elementary school students who need additional reading support.
Concluding his State of the Union address, Biden said, “We are the only nation on earth that has always turned every crisis we have faced into an opportunity.” Let this be the moment we one Turning the youth mental health crisis into an opportunity to foster greater connection and belonging for all of our nation’s children.
David Shapiro is CEO of Mentor, the unifying national advocate for expanding quality mentoring relationships for young people.
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