In Part 1 of our series, Pandemic Learning in Lexington, we explored some of the socio-emotional, academic and mental health needs of LPS students throughout the pandemic up to the present. Now, in Part 2, we hear from school counselors about how LPS is supporting students facing these challenges. (See Part 3 for advice from experts in mental health and student development about helpful practices for educators and parents.)
- Recent interviews and LPS survey results from the previous school year suggest key challenges LPS students are facing and have faced as a result of the pandemic:
- At the high school level, the LPS counseling department made two changes to better support students.
- At the elementary and middle school levels, the LPS counseling department is doubling down on strategies it already uses, rather than implementing new ones.
- LPS made curricular adjustments at all levels throughout the pandemic.
- The main challenge for students and families is a shortage of community partner resources, outside of school.
During a third school year shrouded in the unwelcome tenacity of COVID-19, many of the physical safety measures layered to protect students and community members from the virus are, by now, easily articulated and visualized. But the socioemotional and mental health challenges that have grown alongside the virus aren’t contained by masks or mitigated by vaccines, and continue to spread their own quiet devastation. For parents, students and educators at Lexington Public Schools, a major question remains: In the wake of COVID, what do students need, and what can LPS provide? We asked LPS administrators as well as professionals with different expertise in education and child development.
What do we know about how students are doing?
LexObserver spoke with K-12 Director of Counseling Valerie Viscosi and LHS/K-12 Assistant Director of Counseling Stacy Glickman about what the learning environment within Lexington Public Schools actually feels like this year. So far, they’ve observed a mix of excitement and fatigue — in students and adults alike.
“I would say all students are experiencing a transition of some sort…. And I would say the same is true for adults,” Glickman said.
Challenges for students can vary just as much by individual needs as by age, Viscosi stressed. Nonetheless, at the youngest ages, many students are in the unique situation of entering kindergarten and first grade without “any in-person educational experiences… coming in for the first time, and separating from parents for the first time, is always a big developmental challenge.”
As a consequence of this transition, some children, overwhelmed even by the sheer number of students in one place, need “a little bit of a break,” Viscosi observed. It can be helpful to “just [allow] the time and the space for kids to take a moment out.”
“I would say all students are experiencing a transition of some sort…. And I would say the same is true for adults.”
— Stacy Glickman, LHS/K-12 Assistant Director of Counseling
Slowing down is important for adults, too, Viscosi added. “We always like doing so much and we’re always so busy, and so industrious, which is great, but…this is a really important time to just kind of slow down and look around and check in with each other as adults, as well as with the kids,” she said. “A focus this fall… is to try to make sure we’re able to be fully present, and available.”
The district has some data about the socio-emotional, behavioral and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on its older students. Last February and March, LPS administered the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asks students grades 7-12 about topics ranging from substance abuse to suicide ideation, stress levels and symptoms of depression. The survey is anonymous and voluntary, but has high participation rates — this year, 95.9% for middle school and 88.7% for high school. Detailed results were released in June.
LPS and community partners use the survey data to “develop better programming, services and curriculum” for students, per the report. The results “always inform the work that we do; we get the numbers out early so that we can start building that into our planning,” Superintendent Julie Hackett said, as LexObserver previously reported.
The 2021 survey included some questions explicitly related to the impacts of COVID-19 on student well-being. Consequently, this year, the data “will also be used to further our understanding of our students’ experiences during the pandemic and the potential negative and positive impacts,” wrote Director of Planning & Assessment Maureen Kavanaugh in a follow-up email.
Though the full results are already public, two of the first topic-specific reports, respectively detailing the experiences of LPS LGBTQ+ youth and the impacts and experiences of all students related to COVID-19, are expected this month. The full results are also scheduled to be presented to the School Committee Oct. 26.
Responses suggest substantial impacts on the physical and mental well-being of middle and high school students alike as a consequence of COVID-19, with slightly greater impacts for high schoolers than for middle schoolers on average — and with slightly more students in hybrid learning than in fully remote learning seeming to experience the greatest impacts.
Loneliness: More high schoolers suffered from loneliness and lack of time with friends than middle schoolers, regardless of choosing remote or hybrid learning, according to the survey. A total of 36.7% of middle schoolers agreed or strongly agreed that they felt lonely because they spent less time with friends — 38.1% of hybrid middle schoolers, and 34.5% of remote middle schoolers. Among high schoolers, 58.2% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the same statement — comprising 58.4% of hybrid students and 57.7% of remote students.
“Kiddos weren’t, whether it’s middle school, high school, or elementary school, necessarily used to navigating all of the social pieces that come with being around your peers.”
— Valerie Viscosi, K-12 Director of Counseling
This fall, at all ages, students are reckoning with “developmental shifts, in terms of friendship,” according to Viscosi. Some students might have expected to return to school and “pick up where [they] left off” with pre-pandemic friendships — “and in some cases, that was true, and in other cases, shifts had taken place in friendships, as they often do.”
While such shifts often occur beyond COVID, some this year were more acute than usual: “Kiddos weren’t, whether it’s middle school, high school, or elementary school, necessarily used to navigating all of the social pieces that come with being around your peers,” Viscosi said.
Interactions that were once familiar have required readjustment — interactions as simple as getting bumped into on the playground, according to Viscosi. “Perhaps before the pandemic, that would have been something that maybe was not noticed in the same way, or certainly wasn’t puzzling or unexpected…just those typical childhood experiences where you’re in the same space…we did see some reacclimating there.”
At the middle and high school levels, this reacclimation “played out in different ways,” she added; “it might be … just getting used to all the social dynamics that go on in groups, as opposed to smaller gatherings or gathering online.”
“I think the long-term impact is scary.”
— LPS Parent Alexia Duc
Feelings of depression: LexObserver previously reported on upticks in anxiety and depression related to COVID-19. About a third (31.3%) of middle schoolers agreed or strongly agreed that they felt sad or depressed more often — 32.6% of hybrid students and 28.9% of remote students. Closer to half (46.2%) of high schoolers felt this way — 47.1% of hybrid students and a slightly smaller proportion of remote students (44.9%). But, other parts of the survey showed that both suicide ideation and self-harm seemed to decrease slightly overall at both middle and high school levels — for instance, at the middle school level, suicide ideation decreased from 15.6% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2021, and in high school, from 16.6% in 2019 to 13.2% in 2021. (Additionally, the survey results showed declines in substance use across the board — consistent with trends of the past several years, except for vaping, where the decline is a local and national reversal from the upticks of past years.)
Fear of COVID: Many more remote students expressed concern about getting sick from COVID-19 than hybrid students, and anxiety about COVID at the high school level for both learning modes was higher than it was in middle school. Overall, 55.4% of high schoolers agreed or strongly agreed that they worried about getting sick from COVID-19, compared to 40.4% of middle schoolers. Among high schoolers, 49.8% of hybrid students feared getting sick from COVID-19, but far more (63.4%) of remote high schoolers reported this fear. In middle school, 35.9% of hybrid students expressed this fear, whereas 49.1% of remote students felt the same.
Struggling with remote learning: Again, more high schoolers than middle schoolers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “remote learning has been difficult for me.” Almost half, or 48.2% of high schoolers, fell into this category — 53.7% of hybrid students, and 40.2% of remote students. For middle schoolers, 39.3% overall agreed or strongly agreed with the statement; this included 43.4% of hybrid students and 31.7% of remote students.
Some of these struggles related to mental health and social withdrawal, as previously reported. But academic learning posed its own challenges to some students, too. For instance, LPS parent Alexia Duc, the mother of an 8th and 11th grader at LPS, said her older son did not receive the support he needed with writing during remote and hybrid learning. “I think the long-term impact is scary,” she added, noting that he is now enrolled in a tutoring group outside school for additional writing support.
More non-school screentime: Overuse of technology by children across the country has skyrocketed throughout the pandemic — and the survey results illustrate that this uptick has played out for older students at LPS. An overwhelming majority of both middle and high school students reported spending more time on social media, video games and TV since COVID transformed daily life.
For middle schoolers, three out of four students (75.1%) agreed or strongly agreed that they were spending more time on these activities; the trend was even more pronounced for high schoolers, with 81.1% of students saying the same. But, these numbers were very slightly lower for students who were fully remote than for those who were hybrid — 74.3% of remote students compared to 75.9% of hybrid students in middle school, and 79.4% of remote students v. 82.9% of hybrid students in high school.
Multiple parents of elementary to high school students interviewed by LexObserver expressed concern in increased screentime of their children during remote and hybrid learning — including Facetiming, watching videos and gaming to the point of social withdrawal, as previously reported.
For instance, Nick Fang, father of an 8th grader and a 3rd grader, said his elementary school child had begun learning from screens rather than from books during the pandemic: “If I go and ask [my son]…how he learned some new things, he will say that he learned from videos, not from books…that’s a difference that we observed.”
This fall, Viscosi has noticed that overuse of technology and social media appears to continue to challenge students across grade levels — and impact their in-person interactions. “We have certainly seen that once connected to technology, it doesn’t seem like, now that we’re back in person, that that’s being pulled back at all,” she said.
For some students in high school or middle school, gaming seems to detract from in-person socializing. This can play out to different extents, Viscosi said: “It might be somebody who’s gaming a lot, and… the child is a lot less comfortable, for example, going out with friends, or going to meet in person with friends… and on a more extreme example, [parents] might be more concerned that their child is just online gaming, and never meeting in person with other peers.”
“If I go and ask [my son]…how he learned some new things, he will say that he learned from videos, not from books…that’s a difference that we observed.”
— Nick Fang, LPS parent
But children too young to take the YRBS have been substantially impacted too. “We are seeing kiddos who maybe had access to social media and things like that [who] maybe wouldn’t have at their ages, or their developmental levels, pre-pandemic,” she said. Now, “we’ve definitely been hearing …that kids are using technology at younger ages and that perhaps they’re not having the same amount of parental supervision around the use of it as they might have before.”
Though research is mixed, there is generally more concern for younger students about the impact of long stretches in front of a screen on development. “With younger kids, it may be that they’re just in front of the screen for quite a while, and the concern [is] around some of the information that’s out there about how that can impact the brain and brain development,” Viscosi said.
The LPS counseling department is working to support students “around responsible use [of technology] and digital citizenship,” Viscosi said. (Separately, the Lexington School Committee unanimously passed a policy codifying student standards for the acceptable use of district technology Sept. 28.)
Some experts suggest strategies including consistent rules, creating a schedule and emphasizing play to help winnow down students’ screentime. For students of all ages, some parents have expressed discomfort with the extent of technology use by their children, Viscosi noted; at home, parents should feel justified in adjusting technology and social media rules to the needs of their individual child for a new moment of increased social connectivity, even as the pandemic continues, she stressed.
Less physical exercise: Unsurprisingly, more remote students than hybrid students at both the middle and high school levels observed that they got less physical exercise during COVID-19. At the high school level, 52.8% of students agreed or strongly agreed that they were getting less physical exercise, including 49.7% of hybrid students and 57.3% of remote students. The same was true of 43.5% of middle school students — 39.0% of hybrid students and 51.2% of remote students.
More snacking: Just under a third (29.6%) of middle schoolers agreed or strongly agreed that they were eating more snacks and junk food during COVID, with a negligible difference between remote and hybrid student answers (29.4% for hybrid and 29.7% for remote). Just over a third (36.8%) of high schoolers felt the same — 36.7% of hybrid students and 36.9% of remote students.
Later bedtimes: About half of middle school students (50.2%) agreed or strongly agreed that they went to bed much later than they did pre-COVID; this was slightly more common for high school students (58.6%). A slightly higher proportion of hybrid students than remote students at both levels experienced this habitually later bedtime — 52.0% of hybrid middle schoolers compared to 47.5% of remote peers, and 61.2% of hybrid high schoolers compared to 55.5% of remote students. (But, some high school students told LexObserver they got more sleep during remote learning than they did during in-person learning, especially thanks to the lack of a commute.)
Higher family stress levels: Over half of high school students agreed or strongly agreed that the stress level in their family had gone up — 52.6% of all high schoolers, with 53.4% of hybrid students and 51.4% of remote students. This was also true for 40.9% of middle schoolers — 43.6% of hybrid students and 35.8% of remote students.
For parents, the unrelenting “together time” and number of roles they have had to juggle in their children’s lives, from educator to social support to caretaker, have taken their toll. Reminding parents and kids alike that everyone is adjusting, and to take time and space for self-care, can help as everyone continues “trying to…reacclimate to a different level of being together,” Viscosi said.
Most families’ employment was impacted: The majority of all students who took the survey saw the employment of a parent or guardian impacted during COVID-19: Over 70% of all high school and middle school students, both hybrid and remote, had an adult in their home lose their job or have their hours reduced (“even for a short time”) during the pandemic. Specifically, this happened in the families of 73.8% of middle schoolers — the same number of hybrid students, and 74.5 % of remote students — while it was reported by 71.9% of high schoolers, including 72.8% of hybrid students and 71.0% of remote students.
According to Kavanaugh, “staff from our counseling, health & wellness and other departments have begun internal reviews on YRBS items relevant to their areas of work to better understand our students’ needs” since the results were released. Staff from the counseling and health & wellness departments will continue to use the data to inform their ongoing curriculum reviews, she added. The data is also used in community education and events for families, students and community members, such as the annual Parent Academy.
The Lexington School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) will also meet to examine the data at an undetermined date, likely early next month, and the data will be presented again during a Dec. 13 Mental Health Summit with the School Committee and Select Board.
“Kids are, for the most part, incredibly resilient,” Viscosi said. “We have some kids who looked a little more wobbly than they would at those ages [pre-pandemic]. But they’re going through those steps, just like they would [pre-pandemic], and I think we’re getting there.”
How is LPS supporting students at different ages?
This year, LHS reorganized programming in two ways to provide more social-emotional counseling support to students, Glickman said.
More time for check-ins: First, while students at LHS typically spend their first couple of weeks implementing course changes, “which used to usurp a very large portion of the counselors’ time at the beginning of the school year,” this year the counseling department consolidated those changes into one day for each grade level designated as “arena scheduling day.”
The effect of this, Glickman said, was to give the counselors much more time for individual check-ins with students and check-ins on classrooms: The change “cleared out the schedule changes that typically occur throughout the first couple of weeks of school, so that counselors could just focus on the social-emotional support for kids.” Both counselors and students have benefited from the change, in her view: “The feedback that we’re getting both from students directly, and from the counselors, has been that that change in practice has been incredibly helpful.”
Students also typically get to know their counselors in the LHS seminar curriculum, which consists of four sessions per year for each grade, Glickman noted.
“High schools are a busy place. [Advisory is] a place where you come in, and it’s a smaller group of kids that you get to see across the four years, that you grow with.”
— Stacy Glickman, LHS/K-12 Assistant Director of Counseling
The new ‘advisory’ program: A second change LHS made this year to support students socio-emotionally has been implementing a program called advisory, Glickman said. This program was piloted last year, beginning in the fall of 2020.
“The LHS advisory program is designed to ensure that every student is known by at least one adult, and has a small community of peers, and experiences personal development aligned with our core values,” Glickman said. This program functions like an updated homeroom, as a “small community” paired with two teachers, with the same group of students remaining a cohort over all four years of high school. “This provides the predictability and the structure and a sense of community” which are very important for students, she added.
The program is designed around “three overarching goals: the idea that it’s a place for connection and community for kids; it’s a place to apply social-emotional skills related to group process and dynamics like in interpersonal communication and self-awareness and empathy; and, it’s a vehicle for us for schoolwide conversations about critical community issues, within and outside of LHS.”
“Prior to the implementation of this program, we didn’t have a great system for [achieving these three goals],” she added. “High schools are a busy place. [Advisory is] a place where you come in, and it’s a smaller group of kids that you get to see across the four years, that you grow with.”
A large department focused on school community: The department is fortunate to be well-resourced, per both counselors; at LHS, the department consists of 12 counselors and five social workers, according to Glickman. “The good news is that we have a great team of faculty and staff members with knowledge of student development, and they do a great job supporting students across the developmental life span,” Glickman said. (LexObserver reported this summer on additional counseling hires with ESSER III federal funding.)
School counselors at the high school have three roles in this system: social-emotional counseling, academic advising and post-secondary support.
“Effective social-emotional learning is really multi-layered….we want to ensure students are building relationships skills and communication skills” Glickman said.
Last year, the high school’s counseling department focused its energy on ensuring that students felt connected to the school community, Glickman said. On the other hand, for personal mental health issues transcending school, such as anxiety and depression, Glickman found that parents and guardians “were accessing supports in the community” beyond school for the most part. Though there are “outlier situations” in which the school provides that kind of support as well, “much more of our interventions were focused on the need for community and decreasing a sense of isolation within the classroom” than on addressing personal mental health issues, she explained.
LHS sought to connect students with the school community through advisories and drop-in virtual activities, such as baking with counselors, Glickman added.
“Getting back into the routine is hard”: So far, Glickman hasn’t seen any particular patterns in students who were fully virtual throughout the 2020-21 year needing more support — just over 30% of LHS students remained fully remote at the end of last year, when the hybrid learning option was phased out in favor of a fully in-person learning option. “It’s so early on in the school year that we haven’t identified any trends or patterns at this early onset,” she said. “Right now, we are seeing that kids are happy to be here.”
Still, Glickman has noticed that “we see some kids with some executive function challenges [e.g. struggling with planning and paying attention], and some difficulty with organization; kids are saying they’re really tired at the end of the day.”
“Getting back into the routine is hard,” she said.
These challenges are pretty consistent with what counselors are seeing across the state, from Glickman’s experience. She is in regular contact with other counseling directors statewide, and “what we’re seeing is consistent both in the immediate area, and within the state of Massachusetts; we all are seeing similar patterns so far.” Glickman characterized these patterns in the very early days of return to school as “this is a period of readjustment and recalibration…and reprioritization… for students, family and faculty.”
People seem to be enjoying socializing in-person together for the most part, she said; “students have been eager to meet with faculty and to interact with faculty, and it’s been a nice bi-directional rapport; as I’m walking through the hallways I see students talking to the students, I see faculty talking to students, students talking to faculty….The energy feels really positive.”
Glickman wants parents to know that the counseling department is eager to do everything it can to support students, and is happy to meet students where they are. “We are so excited to have your children here with us. We know that they are adjusting; we know and expect that children are going to experience lagging skills. We are here to build their skills, to support those skills, to help them grow. And ….all students are going to do that in varied ways.”
She welcomes communication and collaboration from parents. “We will be reaching out to parents and guardians if we need to… we want to hear from parents and guardians as well, if they want to reach out to us … we are partners and want to collaborate.”
Elementary and Middle School
“We’ve been talking more about getting some updated student and parent and staff input about what their experience is of being part of the community.”
— Valerie Viscosi, K-12 Director of Counseling
At both the middle and elementary school levels, rather than implement new structures, counselors are doubling down on strategies they already tend to use, according to Viscosi. They haven’t “restructured how to build community, but just redoubled our focus on what we do do to build community,” she said.
Since the high school is so big, structures such as advisory are important to ensure students can form personal connections with an adult — but the smaller middle and elementary schools are conducive to more intimate connections with teachers and counselors without such a program, Viscosi explained.
“Creating those more personalized groups and contacts and schools within a school at the high school level is always more of a challenge at any time, even regardless of the pandemic,” she said, whereas “in elementary school, if we go to the other side, there are little villages within the classroom.” Additionally, the schools themselves are smaller and “[try] to build a sense of community and a sense of belonging.”
At middle school, “teaming” allows students to build connections “and there’s a lot of eyes on them,” she added.
Viscosi also cited the use of programs including Sources of Strength, a youth suicide prevention program, and Positive Behavioral Interventions & Support (PBIS), a three-tiered system comprising both preventive and remedial social, emotional and behavioral support, as part of LPS efforts to meet students’ various needs and build community. Some social work staff within the department are also focused on building restorative justice practices, she added.
Beyond these programs, Viscosi said the counseling department has discussed gathering more data from community members, and takes the data it already has seriously in understanding how community needs have shifted and deepened. “We’ve been talking more about getting some updated student and parent and staff input about what their experience is of being part of the community,” she said, including considerations of “school climate” and repeating “social mapping.” The department wants to ensure that “we’re looking at data points we have from students and families about how they’re feeling, what they’re needing.”
Academic Support Across LPS
A range of data sources: At a Sept. 28 School Committee meeting, Kavanaugh and Director of Elementary Education Caitlin Ahern presented the 2021 MCAS results, as well as information about how LPS is working to support students’ learning. Both administrators framed the results — which remained relatively high in Lexington but declined locally and statewide compared to 2019 — as largely unreliable data relative to 2019 scores due to factors including test conditions and changes to the test from 2019. But, they said that ongoing “benchmark assessments” at all grade levels will yield more reliable data about what students need over the next few weeks, and outlined some actions being taken to support students at all grade levels.
Benchmark assessments vary across grade levels and classrooms, with a range of approaches from typical unit tests to online tools purchased from education companies. Even with this abundance of assessment tools, “we certainly don’t have local data that will ever allow us to make…those tight, tight, tight causal inferences that we’re always chasing — we will just never be able to make that link in our operational setting, because we are not a lab,” Kavanaugh said.
“[Curriculum cuts involved separating] what are the big ideas that you are trying to identify and trying to teach? And then what are things that are sort of nice to know, but are not a big idea?”
— Avon Lewis, president of the Lexington Education Association and a science teacher
Curricular adjustments throughout COVID: At all levels, curriculum adjustments began in March 2020, Ahern said, and have continued throughout the pandemic. The time constraints of remote and hybrid learning meant that the curriculum was, as directed by the state, “pared back to what was most essential.” Educators in each content area, including department heads and teaching teams, examined their standards and units to determine what to keep and what to cut: “Every curriculum decision was made really thoughtfully, really intentionally by our curriculum experts in the district.” Moving forward, “we will strategically work to put [cut material] back in and make sure that we finish that unfinished learning in the year, and perhaps years, to come.”
Avon Lewis, president of the Lexington Education Association and a science teacher, gave LexObserver an example of what these curriculum changes can look like.
Curriculum cuts involved separating “what are the big ideas that you are trying to identify and trying to teach? And then what are things that are sort of nice to know, but are not a big idea?” Lewis explained. In Introductory Physics, which Lewis used to teach, she explained that this might mean you would learn that Newton’s second law of motion is force = mass * acceleration as the core idea. But some of the nuances to this idea would receive less classroom time – such as that acceleration is not just going faster and faster, but also changing direction, so that going in a circle at a constant speed is an example of constant acceleration – “you don’t spend a month talking about circles” during the 2020-21 academic year, as you would in a normal year.
“Anyone who’s gonna go on and study physics, they’re absolutely going to get circles later,” she said. But these cuts have trickle-down effects on the rest of the curriculum, where other pieces have to be “reframe[d]” depending on what was not taught.
Specific to the elementary school level, Ahern said that staff includes 28 math and literacy coaches and interventionists. While during the past year and a half, these staff worked “double duty, triple duty” to cover the multiplied classroom needs created by remote and hybrid learning, they were able to return to their regular roles once full-time learning resumed last spring, she said.
During the spring, this support staff helped make targeted intervention plans for students and make recommendations to the Lex Be Curious summer program (which enrolled about 180 students this summer, as previously reported). This year, they’ve assisted with the math and literacy benchmark assessments throughout the beginning of this year, Ahern said. Additionally, “small-scale interventions have begun,” but “we haven’t begun the full complement of interventions” in order to give students a few more weeks to readjust to being back in school.
In middle school, the transition between 5th and 6th grade is receiving special attention, with many 5th grade educators communicating directly with 6th grade educators to pass on a sense of what gaps or needs students have.
More middle schoolers were in math support classes during remote and hybrid learning, Ahern said; this year, all math support classes are subsumed under the new name “math workshop,” she added. For literacy, the data from the Read 180 reading comprehension universal screener piloted for 6th and 7th graders last spring is now being used to plan interventions for this year’s 7th and 8th graders, Ahern said.
At the high school level, educators are communicating to support students who transitioned from 8th to 9th grade in a similar way to the 5th-6th grade transition. The Academic Support Program remained active throughout all periods of COVID, Ahern stressed — when students are referred to this program, they receive targeted support at five-week intervals, and are continually reevaluated to consider whether they need additional or different supplemental support.
The main challenge for students and families seems to be a shortage of community partner resources
Though LPS has the resources and staff it needs to support students’ school-related mental health needs, Viscosi said, accessing additional mental health support for issues transcending school is “far more challenging” — even in a community as well-resourced as Lexington.
Like private professionals within and beyond Lexington, Viscosi has observed an increase in mental health issues “particularly with students that didn’t seem to present with difficulties prior to the pandemic.” As a consequence, many private mental health clinics are full, LexObserver previously reported — “the system is so overburdened,” Viscosi said, adding that referral services such as that at Williams James College have also struggled to find openings for community members. It can be especially difficult to find in-person counseling services currently, she noted.
Melissa Interess, director of Human Services for the Town of Lexington, confirmed this account. “Yes, we are also currently seeing long waitlists for mental health providers, which was layered on top of an already limited clinical workforce with expertise in child/adolescent mental health issues pre-COVID,” she wrote in an email to LexObserver, adding that a community mental health assessment conducted recently “also supports the anecdotal information we’ve received about mental health provider availability.”
Specifically, the town is seeing “anxiety and depression being reported at higher rates, as well as school avoidance being a bigger issue than it was pre-COVID,” she wrote. Beyond school-related mental health challenges, “we’re also seeing higher levels of stress in adults who are unemployed or under-employed as a result of the pandemic,” she added.
“We are also currently seeing long waitlists for mental health providers, which was layered on top of an already limited clinical workforce with expertise in child/adolescent mental health issues pre-COVID.”
— Melissa Interess, director of Human Services for the Town of Lexington
To compensate for an overburdened system, LPS counselors have coordinated with Lexington’s department of Youth and Family Services, which includes some social workers. This partnership has existed throughout the pandemic, and this summer in particular, the town’s department asked what needs the counseling department was seeing at LPS and how they could help. Some community providers and agencies are also trying to provide “gap services” for students and families in need of immediate attention while they wait to access “more ongoing counseling,” Viscosi explained.
“The Human Services department offers short-term case management and counseling to Lexington residents across the lifespan,” Interess specified. “This service is sometimes a bridge to a longer term provider or many times is sufficient to resolve the concerns that the residents present.”
Because of the increased demand, “the Human Services department is looking at a number of ways to further support the socioemotional and mental health needs of all its residents,” Interess wrote. “We are in discussions with colleagues and community partners in regards to identifying what our residents need most urgently and how we can put those supports in place.”