Behind the screens of e-learning: safety, mental health supports

Now that e-learning at ETHS is well underway, The Evanstonian wanted to extend gratitude to some of the incredibly talented and hardworking staff members that students and staff don’t often see. Each day, hundreds of staff members attend work, either remotely or in-person, with the intention of making these unprecedented times more stable for students. Without the generosity of all ETHS staff members, but specifically, ones working behind the scenes, e-learning as we know it would simply not be possible. Throughout the next few issues of The Evanstonian, we invite you to read about and thank members of each “behind the scenes” department who continue to work so diligently to support us.

Safety plans for every scenario for 2020-21 school year

With the coronavirus transferring ETHS to 100 percent e-learning, all staff have had to make sacrifices and adapt to their new way of helping students. ETHS safety has been working hard to ensure that all students are getting the help they need and are staying safe.

Safety staff has had to readjust to the all e-learning model. This includes changing some of their duties and roles. The safety staff’s main role in a regular school year is to keep the students, staff and visitors safe.

“Trained in nonviolent crisis intervention, stop the bleed and first aid, [ETHS safety staff are an interventionist,] community emergency response team ready to address any issue. We care for the well-being and safety of ETHS students, staff and visitors,” Matthew Driscoll, director of safety at ETHS, says.

The job of safety is very different this year due to the circumstances of COVID-19. Although safety is not helping students and staff in close contact, they are helping students get the materials and support they need.

“Right now we are excited that we still get a chance to aid and positively impact student learning by delivering materials, books, Chromebooks and other supplies to students. When students need ETHS safety, we are happy to set up and get students the tools they need to succeed,” says Driscoll.

Although administration was aware that school would not be in session physically, ETHS safety prepped this summer the way that they usually do, with much more health protocol. This summer also gave way to many conversations of potentially going back to school in-person.

“Each summer involves a lot of planning for the upcoming school year. We needed to prepare in case students came back to ETHS. However, ETHS safety helped facilitate getting students their belongings from their lockers, materials pick up and delivering items to new students and incoming freshmen,” Driscoll says.

ETHS administration took diligent time to make sure that this year would ensure safety for all of its students and staff members. Although staff members are not sure when school will resume, they have been planning and adapting to e-learning.

“I do know that a ton of planning, then adapting each time a change came along, then more planning and then more adapting and even more planning to make sure we did everything we could to create the safest and best school environment for our students and staff,” Driscoll says. ”ETHS safety is excited and ready to support all aspects of a school opening. We miss the students and our interactions with them. Whatever it takes, ETHS safety is ready to welcome everyone back.”

Mental health staff supports

As tensions run high and the pandemic continues spreading, ETHS mental health staff (social workers, psychologists and counselors) are always thinking of accessible, innovative ways to reach students who may require support.

“We’re offering almost everything, honestly. We’re trying to do our best with still providing individual counselling for students so we’re doing that remotely, and we’re also doing groups,” lead social worker Martha Zarate-Ortega says.

This year, one of the primary uses of asynchronous Wildkit Mondays is to ensure that there is time to support all students who are looking to take advantage of mental health resources through ETHS. For the staff to honour all student situations, mental health supports have purposely been made available both through Zoom and asynchronously.

On Zoom, social workers hold a variety of sessions, whether that be in a group or individually. The purpose of each session ranges from offering a space to process and mourn deaths in the community to establishing coping mechanisms.

“Over the summer, I was part of a group who updated our crisis manual,” Zarate-Ortega says. “So, we worked to think about how we do a virtual drop-in center. How do we do virtual support for students?”

To ensure that students are also able to access resources without talking directly to a mental health professional, supports that pertain specifically to coping during the COVID-19 pandemic are also accessible through the ETHS website.

In addition to the mental health support offered to students, ETHS mental health staff provided training to teachers before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. This training addressed issues such as identifying students in need of mental health support and navigating confidentiality laws when students are working in a remote setting.

“We did train our teachers at the beginning of the school year on protocol,” Zarate-Ortega says. “It’s different if your student is crying in the classroom because you can always call the social worker up or safety can walk the student down. But, what do we do if they’re home? We had to look at all those things and tighten it up a little bit and have a really good process to access those kids.”

Despite the creation of many opportunities for students, the mental health staff is continuing to think about ways to reach the big- gest possible audience and provide as much support as possible.

“I think we’ve done a good job—we have automated calls, we also have the website where we listed information about COVID, how to support your students and we actually also put the guide on there too for community resources. So, if a parent needs some other resources they can access it through there,” Zarate-Ortega says.