Class During COVID: mental health concerns are heightened for teachers, students and parents

One kindergarten student’s struggle and how his mom and teacher are working together to help him grow.
Published: Dec. 20, 2020 at 7:00 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 at 5:16 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Kindergarten is often the first year that students are away from their parents and learning how to be independent. It’s completely different this year, and I’ve learned through interviews and personal experience that mental health is a heavier issue this year for teachers, students and parents.

Mrs. Amy Blake teaches a small group of kindergarten students through zoom.
Mrs. Amy Blake teaches a small group of kindergarten students through zoom.(Leigh Mills)

“What does that cat say? What do you think Alex?,” asks Mrs. Amy Blake* during a writing small group with some of her students on zoom. “Meow!” answers student Alex Leider.

It’s the 15th week of virtual school for kindergartners at West Middleton Elementary School in the Middleton Cross-Plains Area School District.

“Kindergarten for everyone is a big step,” explains Blake, “They do so much growing and they learn to advocate for themselves and rely on themselves and be comfortable being away from home and their parents, and with this virtual experience that obviously isn’t happening.”

And that has been hard for some students, like Alex Leider.

“At the beginning of September, he would hide or cry. We call them melties,” recalls his mother, Carly Leider, “He would have an outburst where he was that afraid to join [live zoom meetings]. And now it’s something he looks forward to; he likes to be a part of those.”

Leider says while she sees growth, Alex still looks to her for help. And we saw that play out in his small group.

“Help me, help me! I don’t know what to do!” Alex begged his mother to intervene, but Blake responded, “Alex, look at Mrs. Blake!” A few seconds later, Alex responded to the question, “I was climbing,” to which his teacher made a surprised and happy face and said, “Did you need help from your mom to come up with that? No! You did that all on your own!”

Since virtual school began in September, Leider says she has struggled with filling the role of both mom and teacher’s assistant. It’s a sentiment echoed by many parents during the pandemic.

“I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a challenge. It’s been a struggle,” explains Leider, “But I am trying to keep my attitude positive.”

“In kindergarten they do need a lot of parent and family support,” adds Blake, “I feel that parents feel that weight, and every single parent wants their child to succeed. I think it’s a lot heavier this year feeling the pressure that their child’s success relies on them just as much as it does on me.”

But Blake and Leider agree that Alex’s growth over these first four months is encouraging.

“I’ve just noticed that he’s more motivated to come to the zooms,” says Blake, “We’re working really hard on him looking to me if he needs help, because if we do come back to school, his mom isn’t going to be there. He needs to start building up that independence and confidence.”

MCPASD is planning to bring students in grades K-2 back into the buildings starting January 25. The school board is holding a special meeting Monday, December 21 to discuss plans for grades 3-12.

*Side note to the story: a big congratulations to Miss Amy Aschenbeck, who is now Mrs. Amy Blake! She got married on December 11, 2020.

Decorations in Mrs. Amy Blake's kindergarten classroom mark her impending marriage.
Decorations in Mrs. Amy Blake's kindergarten classroom mark her impending marriage.(Leigh Mills)

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