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Telehealth in Schools During Unprecedented Times

COVID-19 has necessitated that schools nationwide protect the safety of staff and students by offering crucial academic and behavioral health services through telehealth. In October 2020, the Telehealth Certification Institute hosted a webinar titled, “Telehealth in School Environment- Meeting Student Needs Amid Covid-19” which featured experts on telehealth and behavioral health in the school environment. This webinar sought to equip educational professionals to meet the needs of students in a constantly-evolving virtual environment. This webinar also included CE hours for mental health professionals and covered information such as issues of justice within virtual learning environments, how to relate with stakeholders virtually, and best practices for implementing virtual assessments. Participants had the opportunity to submit questions throughout the session and panelists answered questions live during the webinar. 

The panelists included:

  • Michael Cappiello- President of New York National Association of Social Work
  • Dr. Dwayne Bryant- Licensed School Psychologist 
  • Sherrie Williams- Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Chief Operating Officer for the Global Partnership of Telehealth
  • Elizabeth Faison- Acting Associate Superintendent and Director of Student Services

Each speaker shared their own unique experiences meeting the needs of both students and teachers during these unprecedented times. A notable undertone throughout this dialogue was that while everyone across the globe is experiencing COVID-19, individuals are experiencing the impact of the virus differently. Some students are thriving in virtual learning contexts, while other students are facing extreme challenges with online education. Some students are able to tackle the emotional implications of COVID-19 with ease, while other students are deeply affected by this extensive time away from peers and teachers. Some teachers are enjoying the opportunity to remain safe and teach from home, while other teachers are eager to return to the face-to-face classroom environment. Education and behavioral health professionals are tasked with meeting the broad (and evolving) needs of a diverse group of students and teachers.

One difficulty faced by teachers in virtual learning contexts, as discussed by Liz Faison in the webinar, is the experience of secondary trauma. Secondary trauma is occurring because teachers are now in the home environment of their students. Teachers or staff may witness virtually the trauma that some students are undergoing at home, necessitating both virtual crisis response and additional support structures around teachers and staff. 

Students are also facing challenges regarding access to technology, resources, and family support; these challenges deeply intersect with justice as marginalized communities are left with less resources to navigate times of crisis. Dr. Bryant defined social justice as: “a process and a goal that requires action.” School districts are working tirelessly to make education accessible as much as possible, particularly for those with learning disabilities, IEPs, lack of resources, and other barriers to learning. Sherrie Williams discussed the advances in technology that are benefitting school districts during this time. Some major advances that have happened over the last decade include wider access to broadband as well as wifi extenders. In addition, many schools have addressed inequity around technology access by providing laptops to all students.  These advances in technology have helped make virtual learning possible (and more accessible) during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each speaker discussed various methods for keeping students engaged in academic contexts, but one key method was highlighted during this dialogue- to foster trust with students, build and maintain relationships with them beyond the academic context. Developing a relationship with students in a way that reflects your care for them (as an educator/ clinician) beyond just an academic setting can motivate social, emotional, and academic progress.

The Telehealth Certification Institute is committed to come alongside educators during this crucial time of telehealth transition. We are so grateful for our expert panelists who made this event possible and for the engaged attendees who participated in this dialogue. If you missed the live event, we encourage you to watch the recorded webinar by registering for the CE course.

By: Jessica Sweigert