SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC NEWS) — As the Syracuse City School District prepares to welcome students back next month, the district’s partners are getting ready for new challenges following a year of untraditional learning. COVID-19 forced students to learn virtually, participate in hybrid-class models and go to class with masks and social distancing measures.
According to John McCullough, the executive director of New Justice Conflict Resolution Services, these changes have led to social and emotional development issues for students.
“They’ll have lost grounds of maturity levels, or their ability to be around groups, their social interaction skills, and taking orders,” McCullough said.
New Justice partners with the Syracuse City School District and provides restorative justice options for students. This serves as an alternative to disciplinary measures like suspension, such as conflict coaching and in-school mediation programs that help resolve differences. New Justice also serves as the mediators between students and schools during suspension hearings.
What sends students to suspension hearings may differ, but Indrani Gurgol, New Justice’s senior hearing officer, said the formal reviews aren’t addressing the root of the problem.
“There’s not enough support,” Gurgol said. “There needs to be way more mental health counselors in the schools across the board—not just the city schools—because we have kids who are acting out in school and that is the end product of things that are going on outside of the school.”
That desire for student mental health support echos the wishes of parents in the community. A recent survey conducted by the school district among parents, teachers and community members found addressing student mental health should be a top priority when it comes to spending the district’s more than $100 million in federal stimulus money. The district has three years to use the federal funds but its spending plan must be submitted to the state by the end of August.
Mental health resources at Syracuse City School District are available through initiatives like counseling at the school-based health centers and the Office of Student Support Services. More information about the Student Support Services can be found here.