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C.O. students’ behavioral issues and social anxiety increasing during pandemic

'The best thing we can do is lend them an ear and listen'

(Update: Adding video, comments from Bend-La Pine, Redmond School District)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A few months into the first fully in-person school year since 2019, Central Oregon schools are facing a challenge.

Becky Stoughton is a councilor and student services coordinator at MA Lynch Elementary School in Redmond.

“We’re just seeing kids that need to practice skills and being able to be together,” Stoughton said Wednesday.

She said months of remote learning caused more students to have behavioral, social or emotional issues.

“It's kind of hard to work on behaviors online and through a computer,” Stoughton said with a chuckle. “You can coach and do your best, but students need help and support.”

She said there isn’t necessarily an uptick in fights, arguments or other outbursts, but rather a larger number of students than usual showing similar behavioral issues.

She said these students are also showing behavioral issues earlier than they typically would. 

Stoughton cites a third grader having issues that a fifth grader might typically have. 

Karen Mitchell is the principal of StepUP, a school in Redmond meant for students with additional emotional or behavior needs.

She said there's now a greater need, and a better awareness of the issues.

“Covid normalized mental health a little bit, also, and so it’s okay to get help, its okay to go to a therapist, it's okay to say ‘I need help figuring out how to help my kid’,” Mitchell said. 

The biggest increase she’s seen is in social anxiety.

“For a student who already had social anxiety, Covid was tough,” Mitchell said. “Coming to school for them has always been historically hard. But now, it’s like the hardest thing for a student to do.”

Bend La Pine Schools Executive Director of Student Services Sean Reinhart said taking away the typical rhythm and routine affects everyone, including students.

“Our students mirror what is going on in the community, what’s going on with the adults in the community, and so heightened anxiety or heightened emotions that you see among adults -- it’s going to transfer down to students,” Reinhart said. 

He said with the constant changes and stress from the pandemic, students may be a little more on edge.

“Our students and, quite frankly, everybody has less ability to adapt, whereas in typical times or pre-pandemic, we can roll with changes a lot easier,” Reinhart said. “I think folks are having a harder time adapting right now.”

Stoughton, Mitchell and Reinhart agree that the best way to help a student who may be struggling is to ask. 

“Sometimes as parents, we want to solve problems for our children. But the best thing we can do is lend them an ear and listen,” Reinhart said.

Mitchell said behavior is often a form of language, and the goal of school counselors and teachers is to understand why a student is acting a certain way, and finding a replacement behavior. 

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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