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Professor Frank Worrell

A psychologist has advised the Ministry of Education to initiate a more consistent mental health intervention program for students.

Professor Frank Worrell, President-elect of the American Psychological Association, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted more than just the classroom for children.

Worrell, a Trinidad-born professor at the University of California, told Guardian Media even though the global community is a year into the pandemic, children are yet to adjust to the new normal.

“You don’t get the same sort of connection with students when you are online as you are in the classroom. You also don’t have the recess time to make the social connections you would make with students and so forth so there’s that as well,” he said.

Worrell further explained, “For students who education is more challenging for example, adding online to that is another layer of complexity for them so their motivation may be diminished in a way because, they can’t put their hand up and speak to the teacher privately or, when the teacher goes to their desk so they will have to acknowledge in front of everybody who are on the Zoom call that they need help”.

He noted that there are many distractions at home, making it difficult for students to identify the parameters of work and play.

For some students, he said, “When they go to school, they may not be good at Math or reading, they’re good at basketball or so forth so there is a balance which helps them to maintain self-concept”.

With the ministry preparing to roll out a hybrid learning system, Worrel suggested a weekly counselling service be implemented.

According to him, “I think it is important for things like the guidance units to reach out to family’s homes and have sort of drop-in times so you know where kids can actually go talk to someone. I know Trinidad does not have a lot of guidance officers, but you can do sort of group sessions at schools.”

“The ministry can put on the schedule where in fact this school on this day, these kids can drop in like standards 1, 2 and forms 4, 5 and so that students have a place to go and talk to others and sort of normalize what’s going on,” he added.

In tandem, he believes the ministry should initiate a standard mental health screening for students at the start of each academic year.

“At least in the United States, there are some general screeners that we can use like ask kids about their relationships with friends, families, are they feeling extremely distressed and so there are some brief screeners that children can complete, and you can also have teachers complete these screeners,” Worrell said.

He also encouraged parents to closely observe their children for signs of mental issues.

He recommended, “Looking for behavioural changes and sometimes those behavioural changes could be withdrawal inward or sometimes those behavioural changes could be acting out so being more negative with siblings, getting into fights. Also, listening to the children and are they talking about anxiety more?”

Worrel stressed that mentally healthy children are the key to a better tomorrow.