In Focus: Back to school, are the kids alright?

MPR News producer Rachel Yang hosts a conversation with Derek Francis, manager of counseling services at Minneapolis Public Schools about the return to school this fall.

Schools are in the spotlight this fall as we enter another school year with COVID-19 safety policies and the delta variant. Many school districts are also trying to figure out how to teach with cultural competency, creating safe learning environments for all students.

Student mental health suffered during the start of the pandemic and for many, distance learning exacerbated those challenges.

On Wednesday, MPR News producer Rachel Yang and Derek Francis, manager of counseling services at Minneapolis Public Schools, had a live discussion about the return to school.

Near the end of the discussion, Francis shared three pieces of advice for kids who may be nervous about returning to school and interacting with classmates again:

1) Reflect

Take some time to ask yourself: who are you and what do you want to communicate to others? What parts of your identity do you consider important?

“So practicing the skill of saying, ‘Alright, what are some things that I did this summer? What are some things I did throughout the past year and a half that helped me grow?’ And reflecting on some of the strengths and skills that you have — you've adjusted so much,” Francis said.

2) Listen

It’s just as important to give other people space to share and learn from their experiences, Francis said.

“Ask questions and get to know someone of a different background. Someone who maybe had a different experience during the pandemic, and listen. Taking time to say, ‘Alright, I want to listen to what it was like for you, or times that maybe you had struggled during the pandemic.’”

3) Give yourself some grace

“Never in the history of education, have we seen such a huge transition like this,” Francis said. “And so, knowing that, you're right where you supposed to be, there's no level or standard that's going to tell you, ‘Oh, you're not smart enough, right now.’ You're doing really well!”

When you look at or choose the classes you’re going to take, try to find something you can be passionate about. Join activities — sports, after school clubs or any place where you’ll have the opportunity to meet new people in your community.

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