Real Talk Podcast: COVID Slide with Dr. Erin Herbruck & Ali Weiss Trotter

September 3, 2021
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In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student & Athlete Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Dr. Erin Herbruck and Ali Weiss Trotter to talk about how COVID has impacted our students, both socially and academically, in a phenomenon being called the COVID slide.

Susan Stone:

Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. we’re full-time moms and attorneys bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real candid conversations. Today’s topic is COVID slide. It’s the beginning of the school year. And we’re here to talk about how COVID has impacted our students, both socially and academically. We have two very special guests, Dr. Erin Herbruck and Ali Weiss Trotter. Kristina, can you tell us about our special guests?

Kristina Supler:

Sure. We’re so pleased to be joined by Dr. Herbruck. She’s a seasoned educator at the Shaker Heights schools. She has over 20 years of experience working in education. Ali Weiss Trotter also has over 20 years of experience working as a licensed clinical social worker. Ali is the director of admissions and community outreach at Bellefaire JCB. And she also sees patients, and young patients, in her private practice at the Organization for Psychological Health. We’re so pleased to have both of you join us today. And before we jump in, can you tell us a little bit about your professional experience that lends itself to talking about today’s topic, COVID slide?

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

I’m happy to go first.

Susan Stone:

Great. [crosstalk 00:01:28] Thank you, Erin.

Kristina Supler:

Please.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

Absolutely. So I’ve spent the past 28 years in public education, and spent many years as a middle school teacher, and have spent about the past 13 years as a central office administrator. I have a background in psychology and a doctorate in urban education. And so my background experiences have involved a lot of work with students, with families, with adults, the teachers, the staff, the principals in our school districts.

Kristina Supler:

Perfect. And Ali, what about you?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

So similar to Erin, I’ve been in the field for about 28 years. I worked in the community mental health field for most of my career, focusing on mental illness and developmental disabilities. I’ve primarily worked with children, adolescents, and their families. And in addition to doing some administrative work, I’m currently providing direct clinical service to children and adolescents in my private practice.

Susan Stone:

Your backgrounds are both going to lend themselves, I know, to a great talk today. And I want to make sure we’re all on the same page with our definitions. I understand the term COVID slide to describe the educational and social regression that has occurred during this pandemic. From the articles I read, it seems like the normal regression students have over the summer we expect, and this is a regression on steroids. Erin, is this real, or am I reading about something just to scare parents out there?

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

There’s some merit in the idea. The one interesting thing to think about is that everyone is experiencing this. There are different levels of regression over the summer, and there are different levels of regression based on this unique pandemic situation that we’re in. I think the biggest difference between the summer regression that we see and this one, was the fact that the current situation with COVID lent itself to basically everyone being put in the same situation of being inside, unable to do things.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

One of the biggest difference between summer regression that we often see is some kids get experiences that lend themselves to educational growth. Getting to go to museums, getting to go to do things like that while others maybe do not. And so I think that this has lent itself to be a little bit, interestingly enough, of an equalizer of regression because everyone has been at home. Although there are digital divide issues that certainly play a role.

Kristina Supler:

I know certainly speaking from the student population that Susan and I are working with, the kids who have been, unfortunately cooped up at home, trying to stay safe and socially distance throughout the pandemic. It seems like we are really in the midst of a mental health crisis. This has just been such a challenging time for everyone, but particularly for the little ones. So Ali, I’m wondering in your work at Bellefaire and in your private practice, what have you seen in terms of COVID’s impact on students and mental health issues? I mean, what’s your take on this?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

So when we have seen an impact. In fact, it’s more significant than we would have ever hoped. There’s been a significant increase in anxiety and depression among children and adolescents. And there’s concerns about re-entry into school, and into the school setting. Social isolation was really common during the pandemic, which sort of leads itself to the impact of what it’s going to look like when these individuals go back to school. And a large majority of the children and adolescents that are being referred right now currently to therapists, unfortunately is due to the effects of the pandemic. So we are definitely seeing an increase in mental health issues related.

Susan Stone:

I want to ping pong the question back to Erin. How are schools, now that school’s starting, going to deal with this crisis?

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

Well, it is all hands on deck in our schools. And I can speak specifically to what I’m experiencing as a leader and an educator in my school district. We are investing more time than ever on our social and emotional learning in our classrooms, spending time re acclimating to how you interact with other people, how you, use of space. And then there are some other variables that go into all of that now with where we are with the Delta variant.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

But just teaching kids again about how to … The repetition and the routines of school are being taught to some students. If you think about it, it’s very fascinating. Our students who are going into or starting second grade this year, have really not had a true educational experience for a complete year. Some of them haven’t been in a school in either their kindergarten or their first grade year. So beyond even any of the academic priorities that we have, common core standards, mastery of content. We have so much more to do about reiterating how you work and how you exist and how you work together with others in schools, adults and students.

Susan Stone:

So is a second grader, socially, emotionally … The rising second graders. Are they second graders or are they back to being almost like a kindergartner? How far is the slide back?

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

I mean, certainly it depends on every student and every situation. The thing to think about though, is everyone’s kind of that step back. So I think we’re going to have to kind of recalibrate what we think of developmentally, and where kids should be for a while. Because it’s almost like we have to think a year or so back, of where we might expect them to be. And that’s the new, quote, normal for a developmental student. As a second grader, maybe is socially and emotionally more, and academically more similar to a first grader. And it’s not that we didn’t do amazing things during remote learning, and the challenges of concurrent learning. Many kids thrive in that because of social situations that they’re in that makes this online learning even better for them, but still, it’s definitely different.

Kristina Supler:

It’s interesting, this talk of second graders. Because my son’s a rising second grader. And as we’re gearing up for back to school, I’m thinking that he hasn’t had the real, quote unquote, normal excitement leading up to school, and reflecting back on memories. This is really in many respects, his first go at this. So, fingers crossed. We’ll see how this year goes. But Ali, my question for you, with all this talk about the Delta variant, this is some scary stuff, scary information that we’re working through, on how to be safe and how to have children safe at school in classrooms. We’re hoping for, again, the quote unquote, normal school year. But my question is how can parents talk to their children about COVID safety, the Delta variant, in a real way, but also without terrifying their children? And particularly children who might already be very anxious. What suggestions do you have?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

Right. So my first suggestion would be to let the children talk to the parents. Often, parents will dismiss fears. In the mental health world, our recommendation would be to listen to the fears and validate them. We don’t always have the answers. The unfortunate reality is that none of us really know. And we can’t lie to the kids about that, right? So we just have to help them shift their negative thought patterns, get them into more positive thinking, give them coping skills. Parents and teachers both, really, should share their own coping skills with kids. Because I think we are all in the same boat. None of us know what’s happening. We don’t know if this is the second variant or the second of 24 variants. So I really would suggest, especially for younger students, limit their access to the news.

Ali Weiss Trotter:

The news is scary. No one young should be watching the news regularly. There’s just too much information, too many statistics, too much detail that can be really alarming to kids and adults. I think I’m equally as alarmed, often when I watched the news. And I also think actually, piggybacking on what Erin said, is that routine is key. Creating routines for kids. I think the kids going back to school is ideal. Whether they’re in masks, out of masks, whether people are getting sick, not getting sick, having the day-to-day predictable routine is going to eliminate some of that anxiety naturally. So I am in full support of the kids going back. I think that teachers and parents need to be vigilant, and watch for the fears and anxieties and address them.

Susan Stone:

Ali, Kristina and I deal with two issues more and more lately. And Kristina, I want to know if you agree. But we deal with two camps. One, especially with older, either high school aged students or college students that they’re so anxious. They’re telling their parents that they don’t want to go back to school. Or the parents try to make appointments for them to see therapists, and they don’t want to go to the therapist. And we’ll say, well, they have to go. What do you do for the kid that needs the support, needs the structure, needs the routine like you just talked about, but doesn’t want to do it?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

I think that that’s one of the biggest concerns in the mental health world, is for college age, high school age is school refusal and truancy. There’s so much fear around getting sick, around the pandemic, the virus. A lot of it is just solid communication between professionals and parents. It is very hard right now to find a good therapist. The wait lists are extensive.

Susan Stone:

We know.

Ali Weiss Trotter:

I know it’s ridiculous. The wait lists are miles long. I always recommend to parents to talk to their pediatricians, because they sometimes have resources or know of resources that others don’t. Go through your insurance. People should go through their insurance companies. You log into your insurance company and you type in what your preference is, whether it’s a female therapist, a male therapist, young, whatever. And you can find lots and lots of, of people. It’s not easy. I will say that being involved with the school-based mental health program in my day-to-day work, in Cuyahoga County, almost every school building has a mental health professional. Parents need to talk to the schools. They need to talk to the professionals at schools. Because there are resources available, in colleges as well, in universities as well. Connecting your kid to the mental health clinic at school before they even enter is highly recommended.

Kristina Supler:

So this point about resources being available. I’m interested to hear from you, Erin. Do you, in your professional experience and looking back from what we know at this point about how last year unfolded for students, was there a difference in the quality of education and the delivery of education during the pandemic, between public schools and private schools? Or do you feel, what would you say in terms of, if there was this divide for students from perhaps wealthier families, versus students perhaps in homes where there is no internet or extra computer. And the struggle to even log on and connect. We hear stories, but what would you say about how that really played out?

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

Well, I think the unique thing about education is that everyone is looking for what’s best for their own child. So whether it’s public or private, everyone, every parent is trying to do what’s best for their child. So I think that we could kind of split everything, every experience that kids had in private schools and public schools and every different kind of private school, and every different kind of public school. We could split it all up, and we’d probably find the scattergram to be all over the place in terms of what was available. What I do know is that when the parents and the kids felt supported, felt comfortable, felt like their child was able to learn in a safe environment, that students were learning. So if that, to a family meant that my child went into school every day in a private school that was able to do that, and they … I’m just making up stories now. Didn’t have to wear a mask and they were safe and all that good stuff, they got a fine education.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

At the same time, students who were at home using completely remote learning who were engaged and got on and did what they needed to do, they also had a great experience. So I don’t know if there’s a set answer that students in private schools or public schools got better or worse experiences. It’s very individualized. And I’ve talked to parents personally in the past year, who both found that the remote learning, especially in my district, the remote learning was amazing for their kid. And others who said it was awful.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

And then the same thing with kids coming to school because of the. Because of the pandemic, there are kids who came in and thrived in the school setting when we returned. And other kids who, because for many reasons such as issues that have to do with mental health and safety, that they did not do well and really would have thrived in the other one. So I understand that that’s really a non-answer to what you’re asking, but I truthfully believe that there’s such a wide range, and that any person you talk to would say, either they had a great experience or they did not, relative of whether it was private or public.

Ali Weiss Trotter:

The other thing too, can I chime in really quickly?

Susan Stone:

[crosstalk 00:16:52] Yeah. I would love it.

Ali Weiss Trotter:

From the mental health side, because Bellefaire is involved in 72 programs, school districts in Cuyahoga county, one being Erin’s district. What we were so impressed with was every district’s rushed and urgency to get kids, the technology they needed. So even the families who could not afford internet, could not afford Chromebooks or laptops or any other sorts of technology, that was brought in from the districts to the students. And when that started to unfold, there was a significant improvement in attendance, in participation. So the technology piece, I think, sort of resolved itself [crosstalk 00:17:42] early. Yes. And I think that that lent to some of the positive experiences.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

And if I could just [crosstalk 00:17:50] –

Susan Stone:

Yeah, one last question for Ali, though. I’m so sorry. And then I want to hear from you, Erin. When do you think this whole re-entry situation, on a positive note, is going to resolve itself?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

That is the million dollar question. I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. What I do know, based on experience is, if we wrap these kids with the proper academic support and mental health, social, emotional development support, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. So I think if the districts and the mental health professionals can collaborate, and ensure that these kids are getting all of it, we should see some improvements as the year moves on.

Susan Stone:

Erin, I want to go back to your comment.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

Well, it was just tied back a little bit of an exemplar. You know, we did not have devices in the hands of every student. We had, a lot of students had devices, district issued ones. But I cannot say enough. We had principals in our schools driving to student’s houses to drop off Chromebooks, to drop off materials. We did whatever was needed. We gave out hotspots, we did everything we could to try to make it such that every kid had an experience of some type of learning from home. And these were principals and teachers going to houses on Sundays at 5:00 PM. Whatever was needed to just make sure it happened. I cannot say enough about the educators and the mental health professionals. I mean, we have been doing unbelievable, things that we never, they did not teach us in teacher school, I’ll tell you that much, about how to handle these kinds of things. And we have just, they are true soldiers. I cannot say enough.

Kristina Supler:

You mean you didn’t take a class on how to educate children in a pandemic? Imagine that.

Susan Stone:

Yeah. Right. Not since the Spanish Flu, right?

Kristina Supler:

I know that so many districts went above and beyond, and schools in general, with teachers and administrators working around the clock, as you’ve shared some of these stories, to support students. And really, parents as well, for whatever the kids need. But we also are aware of circumstances where families and students perhaps didn’t feel as supported. And perhaps there’s a real gap in education. And so Erin, I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether schools should perhaps double up on work or shorten recess, or extend the school year. What are your thoughts about those ideas that parents are talking about? Are they good ideas, bad ideas? What do you think?

Susan Stone:

That’s a great follow-up question, Kristina.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

So first of all, I cannot say enough that kids need recess. Recess is vital in terms of some of the social, emotional things that we’ve already discussed. Just interacting with kids. We have, like you said, your child, Kristina, has maybe not seen a kid without a mask in a social setting in a long time. To learn facial expressions, to do … Kids need to be outside. They need to be able to move. They need to be able to breathe oxygen from outside of a building. So no matter what, people who say that we should give up recess for academic, doing more math problems, I can not enough discourage them from pushing on that. Because they, these kids need to be kids. They have lost a big part of their childhood. Unfortunately, it’s really sad to say, due to this. Their lives are very different.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

I have a daughter I just took to college. Her senior year was exceptionally different from what I remember my senior year being like. Socially, emotionally, everything. I do believe that we need to think more about year round academic supports. And I know my school district invested a great deal of time and energy, really on the fly, putting together some summer programming. Especially for our students who had fallen very far behind during the pandemic. And we invested a lot of time and energy and money to try to meet those kids’ needs. However, we know that next summer, we need to expand that even more. Beyond just the high risk group to all students, or more students so that we can continue. We are going to have, it is going to take years to recapture where we believe we were before the pandemic.

Dr. Erin Herbruck:

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’d rather go slow and steady than to jam things down the throats of students in terms of more math problems, you have to learn algebra tomorrow, all those things. Because developmentally, their brains are … Let’s just think about the brain science. We have to work, that is a part of this, no matter how young they are. That’s a big part of their ability to learn. And the pedagogical practices that our staff, our teachers implement have to be aligned to the developmental capabilities of our students, and push them. We have got to push them. We cannot feel sorry about it. We have to continue to push work for educational equity. All the things that we know are really good for kids.

Susan Stone:

One last question. Kristina and I, as you know, work with students who deal with misconduct charges, whether it’s plagiarism or hazing or bullying or social media issues. I would like to ask both of you, do you think that we’re going to see an increase because of COVID in behavioral problems in students? And if so, is there a difference on age group?

Ali Weiss Trotter:

That’s an interesting question. I do anticipate that you will see an increase in certain behaviors. And I say that based on this whole notion of re-entry. I think that without the socialization that kids need, and the routine, that reintegrating into school is going to create anxieties, which then lead to behaviors. So when I think about it off the cuff, and sort of generally, again the biggest concern that I can see is school refusal and truancy.

Ali Weiss Trotter:

Do I see plagiarism? Do I see potentially negative peer relationships, possibly misuse of internet? I think we see that anyway, but I personally, based on my experience in the mental health field, would anticipate that there may be a bit of an increase. I would be most concerned with the high school, middle school and high school population, with regard to these increased behaviors and more oppositional defiant behaviors. I hope that I’m wrong. But unfortunately I think that just the general notion of coming out of a pandemic, being home, having a different learning environment, is going to create the anxiety, which then creates sort of that behavioral based reaction.

Kristina Supler:

Ladies, I would like to thank you both so much for joining us. I think that you’ve both been just invaluable in sharing your insights and feedback and tips for parents, so that hopefully students can have a successful school year and thrive. I think that’s of course what we all want to see. Thank you so much for joining us. And again, [crosstalk 00:25:57] –

Susan Stone:

We could keep talking to you. I mean, I feel like I have 20 more follow up questions.

Kristina Supler:

It’s been really great. Thank you to our listeners for joining us today. For Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. And for more resources, visit us online at studentdefense.kgk.com.

 

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