Districts prepare for upcoming school year, more mental health resources available

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 6:30 AM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - A new study found more than one million children around the world lost a parent to COVID-19. It’s a heartache some families in our area are coping with and trauma school districts are preparing to support students through.

Hannah Pennington and her nine siblings are approaching another life milestone without their mom - heading back to school.

“Seeing my friends is great, but I heard 11th grade is hard,” said Hannah Pennington.

Hannah’s mom Katherine died after being diagnosed with COVID-19 back in November.

“It’s hard. There are things that I want to talk to my mom about, but she’s not here and that’s kind of hard,” said Pennington.

The family continues to ride the waves of emotions since the loss.

“They get that dark sulky look, and you know they’re thinking about something from the past,” said Lisa Mims, “No matter how much love you give them, they still miss their mom. That’s been a hard point for them.”

A new study found more than one million children around the world have lost a parent to COVID-19, and a total of 1.5 million have lost either a parent or other relative who helped care for them. The study team included researchers from the CDC, USAID, the World Bank, and University College London.

“I can see some anxiety,” said Debbie Brinson, Mental Health Coordinator for Alabaster City Schools, “Maybe some depression.”

Brinson knows some students will return in August with the weight of the world on their little shoulders. The district plans to put several measures in place ahead of the fall, including a peer support program and the district-wide roll out of a mental health monitoring app.

“We have a new app called the “Rhithm App,” said Brinson. “It’s five questions children will answer every day, and it’s a way of us to help them regulate their emotions and monitor. If we see someone who is at risk, we can identify that student and get them connected to the right services.”

The State Department established this new Mental Health Coordinator position to help provide more mental health services in districts across the state. This is the first year Alabaster City Schools will have the coordinator on staff for the entire school year.

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