Danbury students ‘overwhelmed’, teachers struggle to adjust to full-time school, administrators say

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DANBURY – About two months after the start of the school year, the effect distance learning has had on students on an emotional level becomes clearer.

Increased socio-emotional needs and behavioral issues added stressors to Danbury’s schools and their staff, leading administrators to reassess the district’s budget.

“They (the staff) are overwhelmed,” Superintendent Kevin Walston told the school board last week. “Our administrators are overwhelmed, and our kids … it’s probably overwhelming for them because they haven’t been to school for so long.”

Danbury has added resources to upgrade students academically, but the social and emotional well-being of students is a high priority, said Kelly Truchsess, director of school personnel services.

“Social emotions have to come first,” she said. “If the kids aren’t doing well, we have to pause… the reading program or the math program or whatever to regroup, reset and then move on. We all know that children don’t learn if they’re in the wrong place to learn.

Students have lost the routine of being in school full time, Walston said. The challenges of social media where kids do “something wrong and videotap it” have been problems, he said.

“It took us a while to get used to being in the building again,” he said. “I have no doubts that we will get there.

The younger students were “deprived of their early childhood experience” and never had a full year of in-person school, Truchsess said.

“When you walk into an elementary school, you see kindergarten to grade two really learning to do school for the first time, which has put immense stress and pressure on our teachers on our administrations,” a- she declared.

Stressed staff

Due to the shortage of substitutes, staff either cover extra lunch chores or replace their peers, Truchsess said.

“We are understaffed,” she says.

Absences have been higher, with 133 teachers absent two Fridays ago, said Kimberly Mango Thompson, director of human resources.

“We’re seeing a high number of absences, which I think is a reflection of what we’ve all been talking about here,” she told the board. “Not only is the disease starting to spread – we are in this season – but we are also seeing that people are really – some are struggling.”

Some employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have walked out when they do not submit their weekly COVID test results. But the number of employees in the test group fell to around 150 people, Thompson said.

That number is expected to drop as some staff get their second shot, she said. Employees now have more flexibility on test days, which has helped, she said.

Thompson and the CFO are considering using an agency that provides substitutes for schools. Substitute teachers, para-educators, secretaries and nurses are in great demand, she said.

“We have exhausted our access to temporary agencies,” said Thompson. ” There is not anybody. We are all fighting for this limited group of people, even temporarily. “

The shortage of submarines is particularly serious for school nurses. Sometimes nurses have to be transferred to other schools. On rare occasions, a nurse covers two schools, Truchsess said. This is the first time Danbury has needed to do this.

“We need more nurses,” she said. “We need more support, but we have had to make these tough decisions this year. “

Danbury offers an Employee Assistance Program – available to all employees, even if they are not affiliated with School Health Insurance – which provides wellness tips, videos and newsletters, but the district aims to add modules related to mental health during professional development time, Thompson said. .

“It was really difficult,” she said. “If we can leverage some of those dollars that are being set aside with this plan to provide additional resources for people that people can access either with us or in their spare time, that’s something we will prioritize for the coming weeks. “

Student services staff are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is an approach to support students going through trauma, anxiety, school avoidance or aggressive behavior, said Truchsess.

“This will give additional tools and resources to our staff on how to work with some of the issues we see in schools today,” she said.

Budget

Walston has noticed that the environment throughout the district is slowly improving.

“Our schools are improving, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help,” Walston said.

That’s why the district is exploring all savings and reassessing how it planned to spend federal coronavirus relief funds to provide better resources for classrooms.

Danbury was unable to find staff for some positions the district wanted to hire, such as interventionists at the college. Walston said he told the college to hire school climate specialists instead to address behavioral issues.

The district aims to hire temp agency workers to avoid creating a whole in the budget once federal COVID funds expire, he said.

He expects to have more details for the school board at its next meeting.

“We have a lot of work to do so that we can recharge our buildings a little better right now,” Walston said.


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