By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

Saying this has been a difficult year for educators and students is like a saying the Indianapolis 500 is a race – an immense understatement. Losses and loneliness due to COVID-19, rising levels of childhood poverty and hunger, and constant uncertainty coupled with pressure to quickly adopt and adapt to new technologies and learning modalities. Post-pandemic days grow ever closer, but what does that mean for Indiana students going forward?

Educators, mentors, and family members are concerned about learning loss resulting from the numerous educational disruptions. Early data from national testing organizations showed, on average, a 5 to 10 percentile drop in math scores for children in the critical third through eighth grades. Drops were particularly notable in the scores of Black and Hispanic students and students attending high-poverty schools, another disproportionate impact of the pandemic on our poor and non-white communities.

McKinsey & Co. has released a study that both projected estimated learning losses while also providing suggestions to address the students most impacted. Specifically looking at learning in math, McKinsey estimated that white students lost three months of academic growth while students of color lost three to five months. Suggested activities to address the learning loss, and expanding opportunity gaps, included: scaling high-intensity tutoring; creating small group academies over school breaks; protecting the neediest school districts from spending cuts; adding academics into summer camp activities; and touching base with missing students and their families weekly beyond virtual media, including in-person home visits and/or food or supply deliveries.

House Bill 1008, the student learning recovery grant program, is currently under consideration in the Indiana State Legislature. The legislation would designate funding, define eligible entities, and establish requirements for student learning acceleration plans. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately, allowing Indiana schools to quickly act to help their students.

In addition to learning loss, there is little doubt that the pandemic has elevated levels of anxiety and depression among students that had these illnesses before the outbreak. Research in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health also reported that new and/or different fears and behavioral health illnesses have emerged for many of our children and youth. As schools and activities resume, we need to acknowledge the lasting impact that stress, uncertainty, loss, and fear can have. Our task is to prioritize our kids’ mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing, finding the additional supports and services they need to feel safe and secure.

Our kids need the connections found not only in school but also in sports, afterschool programs, and the countless other activities that were scaled back or halted due to health concerns. Summer programs can be a fantastic way to transition back into group interactions. Camps, academies, and out-of-school programs offer learning and developmental growth delivered through fun and engaging models. Playworks, a nonprofit that promotes child development through play activities, recently published practical ways to keep kids active – and socially and emotionally health – this summer. A list of suggestions and resources can be found here and Playworks Indiana can be reached at www.playworks.org/indiana/.

Of course, we also must applaud the tremendous efforts made this year by our teachers, counselors, administrators, and everyone working in schools. They have adjusted to new schedules, new technologies, and often complicated new safety requirements. It is not surprising that many educators are feeling stressed and burnt out. Edsurge’s article about supporting educators in 2021, linked here, contains several recommendations and free resources to support teacher efforts, many from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

The need to address youth learning loss, child social and emotional well-being, and educator support is clear. We all benefit when all Indiana students are nourished and prepared to succeed. It will likely be several years before we fully understand the impact the pandemic has had on our kids. Yet there are local and state efforts underway and there are additional actions we can take now to build a pathway to recovery. This year has changed everyone, let’s work together to minimize and offset the negative effects on our students.

 

IYI’s recently published Data Report: Youth in the Justice Systemhighlights data indicating that historical and current school discipline practices and polices continue to disproportionately push some kids of color out of the classroom and into the juvenile justice system, leading to severe long-term outcomes in education, economic well-being, and health. 

To learn more, click here! 

Homelessness creates intense challenges and barriers for children and youth, which hinders their ability to find academic, social, and financial success. Children can exhibit various academic or social difficulties that result from the trauma of homelessness, mobility, and the lack of structural consistency and security.

To learn about students experiencing homelessness in Indiana, click here!

To read the appendix, click here.

When is the right time to talk to children about racism? Are you concerned about not having enough or the right information? Are your kids and teens asking questions about history and race that make you uncomfortable? How do you start anti-racist conversations with children and how do you sustain them over time?

It can be hard to talk with children and students about racism. Conversations about race, the history of discrimination, both interpersonal and systemic, in our country and state, and current protests will likely be different for each family, school, and community. There is no one “best” or “right” way to talk with children about this important issue. At the same time, the research is clear that we can and should start teaching children about kindness, fairness and human rights at a young age.

In August 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy brief outlining the health effects of racism on children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families. Racism negatively affects the environments in which people live, learn, play, and work. For the person who experiences racism, its impact has been linked to differences in such health indicators as infant and maternal mortality, birth weight, and child and adolescent mental health. Prolonged exposure to stress associated with racism leads the bodies of those affected to produce increased stress hormones, which in turn can result in their development of chronic diseases. Systemic racism has impacted access to jobs, education, healthcare, and overall upward mobility. Creating antiracist environments and systems for our children can have lasting health and economic benefits for all people.

When discussing racism with children, it is important to first, increase our personal understanding of this critical issue from a lens of equity and fairness and secondly, to understand and adjust our engagement based on the stages of child development. What follows are some age-appropriate ways and resources, many from UNICEF and the Child Mind Institute, to address racism with children and youth.

Little ones, under age 5:

  1. Be open to all questions. Babies as young as 6 months old begin noticing physical differences including skin color, and by age 5 children can show signs of inclusion or racial bias. Children in this age group commonly ask many questions, and will likely ask about people who look different from them. Encourage their curiosity, recognizing and discussing differences in appearance in positive, prosocial ways.
  2. Celebrate diversity. Introduce diverse cultures and people from different races and ethnicities to children. Early positive interactions help decrease prejudice and encourages more cross-racial group friendships.
  3. Use relatable experts. CNN and “Sesame Street” recently partnered for a special town hall special, “Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism,” where Big Bird, Elmo, Abby Cadabby and others, discussed and explained concepts of protesting and racism. Kids’ direct and heartfelt questions were answered in clear and simple terms that all can understand.

 

Elementary students and pre-teens:

  1. Encourage this age group to share their feelings about race and racism. Check in, listen, and ask questions. Children are likely to have concerns or questions that they do not know how to express. They may be ambivalent or uncertain, afraid of riots, of being hurt by the police, or worry that something bad could happen to loved ones.
  2. Discuss the media. Ask what they are seeing on TV and social media. Elementary students and pre-teens are becoming more exposed to information and can easily be confused by what they are seeing and hearing. Ask broad questions such as: “How did you feel about what we saw on the news? What did it make you think about?”
  3. Bring diversity into your home and schools. Explore food, stories, and films from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, discussing the uniqueness and similarities. Advocate for curricula that are multicultural, multilingual, and reflective of diverse communities.

 

Teenagers:

  1. Be ready for strong emotions. This age group is likely to know more than you may think and can also have strong emotional responses. Try to stay calm without hiding your feelings. Let them know that you are also sad and angry, validating that it is good to have a strong reaction to social injustice.
  2. Talk openly about historical racism and the challenges of addressing remaining inequities. This group is beginning to understand complicated and abstract concepts such as fairness, bias, and justice. Ask what they think and introduce them to different perspectives and worldviews to help expand their understanding toward global thinking and local impact.
  3. Encourage action. Many teens are looking for ways to be active in their community and on social media. Help them to act in ways that reflect a dedication to inclusion, unity and personal development.

Do your best to meet each child where they are, developmentally and emotionally. It is important to hear and validate their questions, fears, and emotions. Do not worry if you do not have all the answers. Our children are looking to us as role models and guides. Honest, open, and fact-based conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion builds lasting trust. Take every opportunity to challenge racist behaviors, practices and policies, demonstrate kindness, and stand up for every person’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.

In the words of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Karlin Tichenor, “Our minority children deserve a world where they can run, walk, protest, and achieve without fear or limits. We all deserve this world.”

A few supporting and additional resources include:

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)

 

 

 

Many of us, as parents and caregivers, find ourselves now at home, juggling our children’s school requirements, our own work obligations, and the added stress of trying to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic. We want to be supportive and encouraging, but simultaneously we struggle with how best to address the dangerous realities of this virus. Now, perhaps more than ever, our kids are looking to us for guidance and reassurance. And our interactions with our kids, how we talk about and respond to the current conditions, make a tremendous difference in how they address these challenging times.

There are mountains of articles and reports to sift through offering advice. What follows are highlights of three helpful resources – one from the National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, one from Psychology Today, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. These, like many resources and experts, stress the importance of offering an age-appropriate response.

For young children it is important to keep your discussions of COVID-19 brief and simple. It is helpful to let young children know that adults – including their family members, teachers, and community leaders – are working to keep them safe and healthy. Within this age group, stress and anxiety may show up as loss of appetite, clinging to parents/caregivers, thumb sucking, or regression in developmental milestones.

We should anticipate more questions from later elementary and early middle schoolers. They may ask questions about COVID-19 cases in their area or school, the chances that they will get sick, and what is going to happen when they return to school. Given the uncertainty that exists around many of these questions, we can help these children by giving them the facts that we do know. Talk about how the disease is spread and what everyone can do to reduce their risk. Practice handwashing and putting on face masks. Discuss what national, state, and community leaders are doing, such as issuing stay-at-home orders, to manage the spread of the disease. Irritability, poor concentration, nightmares, and clinginess are all common signs of stress with kids in this age group.

COVID-19 issues and concerns can be discussed in greater detail with older students, such as those in grades 8-12. Again, it is important to steer them to factual information and credible sources. This group is likely to be getting information form a variety of sources, such as friends and social media. We can play an important role in helping them sort out facts from rumor, speculation, or opinion.  Sleep disruptions, loss of appetite, increased conflicts and aggression, and physical complaints are common among teens under stress.

Limiting access to screens, including television, internet, phone, and social media, is advised for all age groups. Yet, this has become increasingly challenging with stay-at-home orders, e-learning, reduced alternate activities, and time demands of parent work schedules. We can all monitor how much time our children spend watching COVID-19 updates, as too much information can increase fears, confusion, and anxiety.

We can help children and youth stay active by encouraging them to play outside, take a walk, or go for a bike ride. Even a small amount of outdoor time can significantly help mental and physical wellbeing. Taking breaks from schoolwork can increase focus and reduce fatigue. Let your child lead their movement breaks – jumping jacks, dance moves, and stretching are all easy options. We have seen countless creative ways children and families are playing together during this pandemic.

Above all, we want all children to feel supported and cared for during these unusual and uncertain times. We want them to feel safe and comfortable sharing their frustrations, fears and concerns. Lost time with friends, sports seasons, musical performances and graduations are understandable reasons for our kids to be angry, disappointed, and sad. We need to hear and validate these emotions. At the same time, we can also use this time to model flexibility, patience, creative engagement strategies, problem solving, resilience, and compassion. All caring adults have the opportunity to help our children through this crisis – and our kids are counting on us to do just that.

Sources and Resources

Students laugh and talk.

For the thousands of Hoosier children in foster care, educational success is essential to reach their full potential. But research tells us that our foster youth face educational disparities from early education to postsecondary.

We can all help Indiana’s foster students thrive by working together, addressing systemic issues and providing equitable opportunities.

Our latest spotlight, developed in partnership with Foster Success, aims to support you in making a difference in the experiences and outcomes of our foster youth.

Read the spotlight to get the latest insights on this growing population of students.

Read the spotlight!

By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute 

Indiana Youth Institute’s legislative summary is a review of child-and youth-centered legislation passed and proposed during the State’s most recent legislative session. Because this was a budget year for the Indiana Legislature, we also highlight significant funding decisions affecting Indiana kids. 

Some of the major budget changes include:

1.) School funding increases of 2.5% for each of the next two years were passed, with an additional $539 million in base funding for K-12 education

2.) An additional $74 million for other education programs, like the Teacher Appreciation Grant program and the Secured School Safety Grant program 

3.) $20 million per year of new funding for the Next Level Jobs Employer Training Program, and 

4.) Department of Child Services receiving a $256 million budget increase in 2020 and $246 million in 2021. 

Some new laws aim to address family and community conditions. Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 464, Homeless Youth, facilitates homeless youth access to government identification and education services through a designated representative other than a parent or guardian. House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1432, Parental Incarceration, stipulates that Department of Child Services case plans must consider incarcerated parents who have maintained a meaningful role in the child’s life, including but not limited to visitation.  

As noted above, education issues garnered significant attention, as lawmakers funded K-12 public education at the highest levels in over a decade. At the same time, many were disappointed that more was not done to close the State’s comparative gap in teacher compensation. Numerous education bills were passed including HEA 1628 which expands pre-K eligibility, while maintaining prior funding levels, to every Indiana county. Not surprisingly, several education bills, including but not limited to HEA 1004, HEA 1224, HEA 1398, HEA 1629, and SEA 002, addressed school safety issues. New this year, SEA 132, requires every high school to administer the naturalization exam for citizenship to students as part of the U.S. government course requirement. The bill also requires increased study of the Holocaust in a U.S history course.  

The State’s Department of Child Services (DCS) came under heavy scrutiny this session. In addition to the budget bill, SEA 1 and HEA 1006 cover several activities aimed at improving DCS operations including but not limited to setting new standards for timely responses, availability of telephone contacts, caseload limits, response requirements, and maximum age for collaborative care. The new legislation also includes a requirement that DCS report their progress to the general assembly before July 1, 2020.  

In juvenile justice legislation, proposed Senate Bill 279 would have allowed children as young as 12 to be waived into adult court after being charged with attempted murder. The bill met significant opposition, as the proposal runs contrary both to national trends and youth offender rehabilitation research.     

Two notable misses of this legislative session concerned addressing state smoking rates. With nearly 9 out of 10 smokers starting before age 18, and Indiana having one of the highest percentage of residents who smoke in the nation, nicotine use in all forms is a critical youth health issue that must be addressed by our state. This year, the Indiana Legislature failed to pass two bills – one to increase the state smoking age to 21, another to raise the Midwest’s lowest cigarette tax – which research shows would have had a significant impact on youth smoking rates. In addition, parents and schools continue to express frustration with rising vaping rates, and little was done this session to address this emerging public health issue.   

As we look to the summer study committees, we are monitoring the interim study committee on courts and the judiciary, focusing on reforms to laws and policies on the adjudication and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.Education interim study committees will address the impact and funding of school counseling programs while also looking at teacher pay 

We were encouraged by the many bills that were introduced and passed which aimed to increase child well-being in our state. At the same time, much work remains to move our state beyond our 29th place national ranking. Indiana Youth Institute will continue to provide data and research, collaborative conversations, and community convenings in our efforts to ensure that all Indiana children are safe, healthy and well educated.     

(Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached atiyi@iyi.orgor on Twitter at@Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, andcommunities that are focused on kids and youth.) 

We want you to have access to great data.

This data and research source guide lists some of our favorite trusted and reliable sources that you can use in your work with Indiana’s kids.

In addition to links to each source, the guide indicates whether:

  • Data is available at national, state, county and/or more specific local levels.
  • Data is disaggregated by race, gender, place, income, and/or other related indicators.
  • Data is accessible through dashboards, interactive visualizations, downloadable reports and/or raw data.

Read the Issue!

Social-emotional learning is a foundational approach to educating the whole child

This issue brief focuses on social-emotional learning (SEL) and how you can make SEL foundational to your work with Indiana’s youth.

SEL helps ensure students have the social, emotional, behavioral, and academic competence necessary for success in school and lifelong well-being.  This essential work focuses on educating the whole child and requires a cultural and mindset shift as well as a collective approach.

In this brief, you’ll find an overview of the Indiana Department of Education’s new Indiana Social-Emotional Competencies and the latest SEL research. Plus, you’ll learn how you can effectively implement SEL in your classroom, school and community.

Read the Brief!