Expert Advisory Panel 2 discusses wellness initiatives and supports for returning students



The Expert Advisory Panel 2 met on June 23 to discuss methods of student support and incorporating wellness into the fall semester.

Members of Expert Advisory Panel 2: Support to Address the Whole Child Experience convened virtually at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19. The team brainstormed ideas to support students that have struggled with their mental health throughout remote learning and incorporate new wellness activities into the classroom environment.

Expert Advisory Panel 2 has primarily been following the student perspective, helping students that have struggled with their mental health feel like they are part of the community.

Associate Professor and Developmental Science Program Director for Boston University and Brookline resident Amanda Tarullo described how the district should prioritize their wellness programs in classrooms because of the impacts of remote learning.

“When, and if, the [students] come back to school, we should prioritize helping them physically and emotionally because many of them have gone through traumatic and draining experiences,” Tarullo said.

Tarullo explained that many students are struggling to stay positive and that teachers in the district should learn how to respond to mental health issues among students.

“In combination with students struggling with remote learning academically, I have received emails from parents and guardians saying their mood has shifted to a more negative tone, and the emotional regulation of children is different throughout every age,” Tarullo said. “Something we should consider is training teachers to engage with their students’ wellness.”

Tarullo finished her thoughts with a recommendation regarding the responsibilities of the task force and school committee to approach students who have struggled throughout remote learning.

“We have to provide spaces for dialogue between teachers and students besides exercise and breathing because, for many children, they have to tell another person how they feel verbally rather than physically,” Tarullo said.

Following Tarullo’s remarks, Amanda Grindstaff, a teacher at the Pierce School, mentioned how the social isolation throughout COVID-19 has led many students to develop poor mental health.

“There will be many children that will come back to school with symptoms of depression and anxiety because of the social isolation. [Therefore,] in the classroom environment, teachers and paraprofessionals should prioritize addressing this,” Grindstaff said.

The task force agreed on the proposal to train teachers to be more attentive with their students and add more mindfulness activities to their lessons. They emphasized the equal importance of social and emotional development with academic development.

Grindstaff added that training teachers will be challenging, but will have a big impact on struggling students.

“Training all of these teachers to further engage will be very beneficial, but will come with its challenges, especially with teachers having to adjust to the new curriculum,” Grindstaff said.

Lindsay Fallon, Assistant Professor of Counseling and School Psychology at University of Massachusetts Boston, suggested that students continuing solely with remote learning in the fall should be prioritized.

“In the hybrid model for Brookline, it would be easier for us to separate students into cohorts so we could prioritize individuals that are struggling with any mental trauma,” Fallon said. “Some students will be completely remote for various reasons in the fall, so we should help them because they will not receive the same opportunities as students that will return and interact with their classmates.”

Fallon also suggested the idea that Brookline Public Schools could hire a mental health organization to support their social workers, but that comes with many challenges.

“We could consider hiring a trusted outside organization that could help students that have suffered throughout remote learning because they could provide more in-depth analysis and support,” Fallon said. “The reality of this scenario would be longer meetings and legislative decisions, but if there is an unsustainable influx of students that our teachers and social workers cannot handle, this is a possibility.”

Director of Research Development for Northeastern University and task force member Mariah Nobrega shared how teachers should incorporate lessons about mindfulness into their curriculum rather than having dedicated times for discussion, which would save time.

“We should provide a universal screening for serious health risks when students come back into the buildings because that will allow more time for teaching,” Nobrega said. “If we can incorporate some type of mindfulness into the learning environment every single day, that could save time from teaching and help students at the same time.”

Nobrega also described how supporting larger groups of students could be beneficial for community bonding and openness.

“We should also focus on classroom and overall community building because many relationships have been stressed and stretched throughout the remote learning,” Nobrega said. “We could have this come from educators or even have students form their own practices and lessons that help everyone come back to good mental states.”

To conclude the discussion, Nobrega mentioned how the lack of physical outdoor activity has negatively impacted many students. The meeting helped the understanding for supporting students during remote learning, in which many have suffered through.

“Not that many students have engaged themselves in exercise routines or even going outside, so, in our wellness programs, we have to provide opportunities for play and sports,” Nobrega said. “This decrease in overall physical activity leads to serious mental [health] issues that we never want.”