In an age of smartphones, texting, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, it can be difficult to escape the constant barrage of bings, dings and updates that reach us through our glowing blue screens.
These changes in communication combined with reality’s more traditional complications can raise anyone’s stress level, including students’. Fortunately, school districts throughout the region have services in place to assist learners in managing the stressors of daily life.
Jennifer Blodgett, department facilitator for counseling at Bethel Park School District, says that over the last several years she has observed more students grappling with anxiety. This anxiousness can be the result of many factors including social-media use and family struggles. The anxiety can manifest through increased absenteeism, social withdrawal and/or lower grades.
“Growing up has always been hard,” Blodgett says. “But in many cases, our students are facing issues that did not exist before.”
Across the county in the Allegheny Valley School District, School Counselor Becky Dyer echoed these same concerns. She says technology and social media use in particular have impacted how individuals and families communicate with each other.
“Before if there was an issue with a person you would have talked about it face to face and expressed your feelings in person,” Dyer says. “Now, students type what they think and that has a different effect.”
Like many school districts in the area, both Allegheny Valley and Bethel Park provide robust guidance services that have evolved to provide support and address new challenges. In addition to the student assistance programs, schools offer an array of support groups and activities that provide opportunities to build communication and social skills. The districts foster connections with their communities, which includes mentors and positive role models, in an effort to be proactive and tackle concerns at early stages. Crisis intervention and counseling services are also provided.
If school districts have more specific needs, the AIU offers additional counseling and psychological services upon which districts can draw. Professional development is also available to help classroom teachers understand behavior of all students, including those with special needs. Michelle Lubetsky, training and consultation coordinator for the AIU’s Teaching and Learning Division, observed that as society in general continues to evolve to include more use of new communication technologies, school guidance and mental health services throughout the region will continue to play a growing role in public education.
“We graduate whole children,” Lubetsky says. “Just as we focus on their academic growth, we must focus on their social/emotional growth, as well.”