Schools shift focus to students' mental health

From stress, to anxiety, to depression, students’ mental health has been strained by radical changes to life that fell heavily on America's children, and educators are trying to respond.

One school district in Allentown, Pennsylvania - which serves around 9,000 students- has partnered with alocal hospital to link middle and high school students with licensed clinicians for therapy sessions one-on-one.

Brenda Derenzo is Parkland school district's director of student services

BRENDA DERENZO: “One of the biggest things that we did was to partner with St. Luke's and St. Luke's provided a therapy component to our school. It's called the YESS! program. And St. Luke's Hospital sent one of their psychotherapists into our schools and they provide counseling services to students who would need that degree of help. “

Educators across the country agree students' mental wellbeing became a bigger priority after the pandemic forced schools to shut down or operate with a mix of remote and in-person learning.

Some students struggled to focus, and isolation, worry and depression took a toll on many.

According to a Reuters survey of U.S. school districts serving more than 2.2 million students conducted earlier this year, a majority of students reported signs of mental health issues.

BRENDA DERENZO SOT “The worst thing you can do for a kid who's anxious about coming to school is letting them stay home. And here we had to. So now trying to get those same kids back into school, how are we going to do that? How are we going to encourage them back? How are we going to build those connections again to get them healthy? “

Eighth-grader Sara Lundberg says remote learning was a struggle. Still, she was anxious about going back to school.

SARA LUNDBERG:"My anxiety about school, like actually going to school, and my social anxiety kind of went a little bit up because I was going back to school, but I was very like, I'm glad that I have that social aspect, because I wasn't getting it at home.... So it got better when I went back into school."

Concerns about mental health have led to a flood of new funding and initiatives aimed at helping schools navigate the pandemic's aftermath.

The federal COVID-19 relief package passed in March included $122 billion dollars for K-12 schools to implement "strategies to meet the social, emotional, mental health and academic needs" of the hardest-hit students and a White House budget proposal released in April includes another $1 billion to add nurses and mental health services in public schools.