In December 2020, the Pamplin Media Group interviewed Dr. Stephanie Maya López, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. She warned that we'd all been traumatized by the pandemic — by the deaths, the illnesses, the isolation, the scarcity of societal norms like hugs and handshakes — and she warned of a post-traumatic hit our community could expect to take.
Now a team of Pamplin Media Group reporters has proven that she was right. The trauma is here, and it's impacting public school students in a big way.
We are encouraging statewide elected officials and education leaders to find solutions — quickly. There is no time to waste on the politically motivated kabuki theater around vaccinations and masks, which only hampered the state's recovery and ushered in the season of omicron. We can't afford that sort of silliness this time.
The "Students Under Stress" story that ran March 9 is part of a series of pieces written by PMG education reporters. Overwhelmingly, the team led by reporter Courtney Vaughn heard from teachers and school social workers who say student behavior this year was different from any other year.
Our team heard that students throughout the state are behind where they should be, both academically and developmentally. This is particularly apparent at the middle school level, where teachers noted that students had not been in school full-time for nearly two years during key developmental years. Teachers cited an inability to manage emotional responses, immature behavior, increased fatigue and stress among students. Together, the team conducted more than a dozen interviews and collected data from several school districts to piece together a snapshot of the educational landscape.
The news is sobering.
Examples: Reynolds Middle School in Fairview saw so many fights break out and huge emotional swings in students that they closed the school for nearly three weeks in mid-November. Roseway Heights Middle School in Portland saw repeated fights that caused lockdowns and lockouts last fall. Additionally, students reported sexual harassment from their peers. In December, some schools in the metro region had to implement emergency safety measures after a social media trend encouraged students to call in bomb threats and school shootings.
Our education team talked to teachers at nearly every grade level who described this as the most challenging year of their careers.
Basically, for the duration of distance learning, students didn't have a teacher in front of them every day, saying, "You need to do this at a certain time. These hours need to be used in this way. You need to do these assignments."
And now they're acting out.
Consider these worrisome statistics:
• Portland Public Schools has logged 422 student suicide screenings so far this year — more than twice the number logged at this time in the 2019-20 school year — before the pandemic caused schools to close.
• In the Beaverton School District, the number of students who reported thoughts of self-injury or who were considered at-risk went from 329 in February 2020 to 571 by February of this year.
• In the Tigard-Tualatin School District, suicide screenings are up from 22 students last year to 77 students so far this year. (Note: An increase in screenings doesn't necessarily mean an increase in attempted suicides.)
We urge Gov. Kate Brown, the Legislature, the Oregon Department of Education, the medical community — especially in the pediatric and psychological fields — and statewide organizations representing teachers unions, school administrators and school boards to get together, as quickly as possible, and to find a unified solution to the mental health crisis hitting our students. Ignore the anti-science crowd who told us COVID-19 was no big deal or fake news, and who are likely to say that "kids should just buck up." We don't have the time for that nonsense.
Our students lost years of in-building education, thanks to the pandemic. Now, they're at risk of losing even more, thanks to post-traumatic stress.
This should be one of Oregon's top priorities.
Meet some amazing teachers,
nominate an amazing student
Students are the only ones inside Oregon schools who have struggled to cope with the challenges of COVID-19 over the past two years.
"When the pandemic struck, our entire mode of teaching changed," says Aki Mori, principal of McKinley Elementary School in Beaverton.
Mori was one of 27 Oregon school officials honored by Pamplin Media Group earlier this month in the 2022 edition of our Amazing Educations special section. (The QR code to the right is a link to the section.) It's our annual tribute to those who support Oregon students in countless ways.
In the current school year, that meant teaching music via video conference call in Forest Grove and delivering art supplies to homes in Fairview. It meant extending online school hours to kids who needed extra attention in Molalla and figuring out how to teach remote welding in Sherwood.
"It was a completely different type of job description," Mori said, "and a job description that continually has changed and continues to this day."
While educators get their star-turn this month, the journalists at Pamplin Media Group are preparing for their annual highlight of "Amazing Kids," a special print and digital publication scheduled for later this spring.
You can read last year's edition and nominate a young person to be honored for the Class of '22 at pamplinamazingkids.com. Nominations close on April 2.