When schools transitioned to distance learning in mid-March, the learning curve extended beyond the students. For counselors in the diocesan elementary schools, working at home has required some adjusting as well.
“Some things, you just can’t plan for, and this is a huge thing that none of us had planned for. It’s been a major learning curve,” said Laura Angelo, the counselor at St. Anthony of Padua School in Wilmington.
Still, school staffs have had to remain steadfast even while getting on-the-job training themselves, she added. “It’s definitely been challenging, but also motivating to maintain the strong presence to the staff and the students.”
For Angelo and others, her routine has changed, even if her goals have not. She now connects with her students and their parents through video meetings, emails and phone calls. While many of the concerns of the students remain the same as what they were, there are some new ones.
“Kids have the same concerns as I think adults do. It’s just from their perspective. When will this be over? It’s weird to be home all the time. I wish I could see my friends. Those kinds of concerns are coming up now,” she said.
Kelli Colella of Christ the Teacher Catholic School in Glasgow said the elementary school counselors are trying to keep their programs as close to normal as possible. Each school is different, as some schools have full-time counselors, while others are part-time. Some also teach or have another role at their school.
Colella said some parents have reached out to her about how to keep their children motivated the longer they are at home. She also hears other concerns from parents.
“It is definitely more social and emotional-type stuff at the elementary level,” said Colella, also the lead counselor for the diocese. “Parents recognize that children show their anxieties differently. It could be acting out. Some don’t show it at all.”
Both Colella and Angelo said the anxieties vary among age groups, but they agreed that the middle school students seem to have more questions.
“With the older kids, it’s more about how they miss their normalcy – going to school, missing friends. That’s why it’s so important to use those Zoom classes where they get to interact with their classmates, with their teacher, even if it’s just once or twice a week,” Colella said.
“The lack of normalcy is taking a toll on them.”
Terry DeLorbe, the counselor and vice principal at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Brandywine Hundred, sympathizes with the eighth-graders, who had been anticipating all the things that come with wrapping up elementary school.
“Talking to some parents of eighth-graders, they’re really feeling the pain of this because they’re unable to do things like the teacher appreciation dinner that they had planned and multiple things – the yearbook signing, the eighth-grade dance. They anticipate a lot of things not being part of their lives,” she said.
Families at IHM have been taking advantage of some online resources to help deal with the extended absence from school.
“We have an IHM moms and dads Facebook account that a lot of people belong to. I have also added a Facebook page called Spartans Share that deals with the coronavirus and concerns. I have a weekly update on that,” DeLorbe said.
For the younger students, there are items for parents to share with their children. DeLorbe said she has been available to parents, and even some students have reached out to her via email.
All of the schools have taken advantage of online tools such as Loom, Zoom and Google meetings, but that can only go so far as a substitute for being together inside the school walls. Angelo said from a counseling perspective, she can gather information from nonverbal cues, but not if she can’t see the children. DeLorbe said there is a lot of value in community connections and sharing personally.
“I miss the spontaneous quick meetings in the hallways and the lunchroom, and after recess and my homework club and things like that,” she said. “I don’t think that can be reproduced in a digital setting.”