Mental Health Counseling

From Ryan Hansen, LPC, ATR

I am providing clinical counseling and art therapy services via telehealth to clients experiencing grief, trauma, anxiety, and depression related to the impact of social distancing/COVID-19. I also teach art therapy students at Adler University utilizing online learning and adjust learning outcomes to address the changing counseling environment related to COVID-19.

Librarian providing remote services

From Anna Karwowski ’14

I am the youth services lead at the McHenry Public Library in McHenry, Ill. My team and I have jumped into virtual programming with both feet, developing database tutorials, storytimes, crafts and more on both Zoom and our YouTube page. We are also working hard to transition our summer reading onto Beanstack, an online platform that allows patrons to log minutes read with incentives like gift card drawings and a free book from the Friends of the Library. As the school liaison, I am in direct communication with area teachers and librarians and forwarding them information about services such as our temporary e-library card, our emergency food service during closure, and more. To see what else we are doing, follow us on Facebook or check out our YouTube page.

And, on a personal note, I have sewed about 25 masks for friends and family who need them and have more requests for masks incoming!

Advice on educating from home

Hannah (Bloyd-Peshkin) Tatro ’14 is using her love of technology and problem-solving to try and make the most of remote learning for her kindergarten class in Oak Park, Ill. Meanwhile, Paige McDaniel ’18, is using her elementary education major and mathematics minor to navigate virtual education at a small public charter school in Tiffin, Ohio. Hannah and Paige talked with Laura Swanson, associate director of alumni engagement and annual giving, to provide insights and advice for parents.

Laura: Welcome Hannah and Paige! Thank you so much for your time. Hannah, you said, “In the pandemic era, everything has been turned upside down, and the assumption of kids heading off to school each day can no longer be taken for granted.” You mentioned that parents now have the daunting task of fostering and supporting the learning process while working from home, on top of the stress of living through a pandemic. This is definitely unchartered waters! First question is the big one–how long should we be spending on “school” each day?

Paige McDaniel ’18

Paige: Thank you for reaching out to me. While working on school tasks at home, you shouldn’t expect your child to work for the same hours they do at school. As children get older, they are able to focus for longer stretches of time, but that’s not the case with smaller children. It’s important to break the time into smaller chunks with play time, lunch, snacks, and other breaks dispersed between work times. This is especially important for younger children.

Hannah: I absolutely agree with Paige. The Illinois State Board of Education recently made recommendations for how much time students of all ages should be spending on remote learning assignments, ranging from a maximum of one hour per day in preschool to a total of four and a half hours in high school. I’ve sent along a chart that I think parents will find very helpful. I would encourage them to pay special attention to the “recommended length of sustained attention” column, as younger kids tend to have less endurance and will need a lot more breaks, as Paige mentioned.

Hannah (Bloyd-Peshkin) Tatro ’14

Laura: Ok, that’s great advice and I am honestly able to breathe a little better now! What should the kids be doing for the rest of the day? How many of those virtual field trips and Pinterest-worthy crafts should I incorporate?

Hannah: This is where you have the most flexibility to do what works for you. Teachers and avid parent bloggers are providing lots of additional activities you can use to fill the days, like these from LiveScience. If your schedule is flexible and you and your child love art, create a window gallery for your neighbors to see as they walk past. Conversely, if your child wishes you’d just leave them alone so they can build a Minecraft Narnia, now’s the time. Obviously, this all depends on your schedule and your children’s ages, but this extracurricular time is where you do whatever works to help maintain your family’s collective mental health. This is not a productivity contest, so don’t go adding any extra pressure in what’s definitely an “A for effort” scenario.

Paige: Hannah, I couldn’t agree more. While it’s great that the online tools exist, it’s not necessary to use them. If you follow what your child’s teacher has assigned, your child will receive all the instruction he or she needs. If you chose to use the online resources, they would be great enrichment tools, but they aren’t necessary.

Laura: So that Pinterest board I stayed up all night making is great for the weekend or a rainy day. That’s great to hear because in the middle of all this, I am still trying to work. What advice do you have for parents working from home right now?

Hannah: The answer to that question will depend a lot on your children’s ages and personalities, but this is where schedules and independent activities come into play. And, no, a schedule does not have to be one of those beautiful charts you’ve seen folks sharing on Facebook to humble-brag about how they’ve optimized and life-hacked every moment of every day. At its most basic, a schedule just means thinking through when and how much time you need on your own and then aligning your children’s most independent activities to happen at that time. For older kids, their schoolwork may already be the perfect thing to do while you’re tied up. However, for younger kids, especially those who can’t yet read, that’s extremely unlikely to be the case.

Unfortunately, just saying “go play” doesn’t generally cut it because younger kids haven’t had that much practice being independent with anything. That said, this could be a great time to specifically practice playing independently in order to build those very skills. Check out this amazing article from The New York Times for guidance on how to get started when the idea of your children doing anything on their own seems impossible.

Laura: That’s great advice! So what do I do when that still doesn’t cut it? What if I still feel like I am not giving them the education that they need?

Paige:  If you are struggling to find time to work with your child while you are working at home yourself, I would recommend first contacting your child’s teacher. We understand that your child’s learning may not currently be your top priority, so if you express that you need some additional guidance, I am sure the teacher would be happy to make accommodations. In general, you could try to help your children in small chunks during your breaks. You could also shift their learning to the evening, if possible. We understand that every home situation is different, so if we know what we need to work with, we will usually find a way to make it work. For some students, this may look like having one-on-one video sessions with their teacher so they can receive instruction if their parents do not have the time or ability to teach them.

Laura: And when we are on that Zoom call with the vice president of advancement (our boss)?

Hannah: Take it from a teacher, students always need help just when they can’t get it. We try to buy time by outlining signals and strategies before the inevitable problem arises. Some options for signals include writing you a note and putting it in a predetermined location; using a stoplight picture to indicate if they’re okay (green), need help soon (yellow), or need help ASAP (red); or putting a small toy on the corner of your desk to let you know they need your attention. It’s important to let them know ahead of time that they won’t get help immediately but that you will get to them within a certain amount of time.

Laura: Oh, I like that idea! Ok, so what’s next fall going to look like? I am going to do my best here, but are they going to fall behind?

Paige:  I would not be very worried about your child falling behind next year, as all of their classmates will be in a similar place. Additionally, teachers will typically do pre-assessments at the beginning of the year to see what gaps need to be filled in their education before moving on to grade-level content.

Hannah: I agree, Paige.This is impacting kids and families everywhere and schools know it. You are not alone. You are doing your best and that is enough. Just remember to prioritize your sanity and your children’s emotional health. The road to recovery will be easier if they haven’t been miserable trying to pretend that home is school.

Laura: Thank you both so much for your time and your knowledge. Knox is very proud of all our educators who are rising to this new challenge. Do you have any parting advice for us?

Hannah: With these challenges and competing interests in mind, it’s important to remember that there’s no substitute for full-day schooling in a building filled with faculty devoted to the task of educating children; that’s a full time job (and then some), and setting that standard for yourself isn’t just a matter of putting on another pot of coffee and buckling down to recreate school at home. Remote learning can’t replace school, and it’s not designed to. This isn’t homeschooling, this is learning at home within the context of a pandemic. We’ll get through this and we’ll get back to school.

Paige: Overall, I know that my colleagues and I are concerned about our students’ well-being more than we are concerned about their education. As long as parents are keeping their children safe and cared for during this crazy time, their education can be made up later. We realize that most parents aren’t teachers, so we greatly appreciate the efforts parents are making to help educate their children.

Inside a skilled nursing community

From Elizabeth Smith ’01

I work in a skilled nursing community as the social services director. Every staff member in our community is vital to providing care for our elders. Aside from the obvious infection control measures we are working as a team to find creative ways to keep elders connected with friends and family. We are also figuring out the ways we can support our staff from an overall well-being standpoint during this stressful time.

Remote medical care–trust science!

From Lisa Gould ’81

As a plastic surgeon specializing in wound care, I am working daily to keep my patients safe at home if possible. My clinic has instituted telephone prescreening and in-person screening for all patients as well as telemedicine to provide care to those who should not be coming to clinic.

We firmly believe that wound care is an essential service and that continuing to care for our patients in the safest possible manner will help to reduce hospital admissions, thereby allowing more room and resources for the COVID-19 patients. I still have patients who need operations, but we are not performing any elective surgeries, which I have defined (based on guidance from the American College of Surgeons and from our colleagues in Spain and Italy) as any surgery that can safely be put off for two months.

We are working to expand telehealth capability and encouraging CMS to relax the rules so that we can continue to care for our patients remotely. The CARES act is a tremendous start to this effort.

I wish all to stay safe, act responsibly and trust science.

Coordinating volunteer efforts

From Sam Jarvis ’09

I’ve been doing a lot of coordination. We’re fortunate with Johnson County/Iowa City and so many non-profit and groups who want to volunteer.

Our United Way is leading the effort for volunteer management and helping other non-profits that are in the food security space–Shelter House, for persons experiencing homelessness, is decreasing their in-house population and coordinating with our CVB to house ill persons (not positive), just so they can socially distance as best as possible. Hotels have been very accommodating since the traffic is low, so they’re taking in healthcare workers so that they don’t take anything back to their family and or other quarantined individuals.

The city is following the trend of putting up hearts around the community as well–we had a mental health professional at one of the press conferences too, to encourage people to be mindful of their mental/emotional health–we’re hosting a long-term care facility call as well to check in with those folks to make sure their needs are met.

Humor and song

From William Budding ’13

I’m providing my work team with daily jokes and humor to keep us all laughing during the days while we work from home full-time.

As a choir singer, my choir in Boston has organized online sing-a-longs so that we can stay connected through music.

Be eager, be ready, and be hungry

From Stefano Viglietti ’91

We are definitely struggling right now, but my Knox education is serving me well as we navigate these times with creative and interesting ideas to help bridge to the other side.

Our time at Knox prepared us to be able to create a culture of smart and compassionate people who are nimble and responsive in times like this. We will be okay. To the Knox community and students I would say: do not be discouraged, be excited. In times such as these, the best and brightest will flourish. Though not all students may realize it yet, (I didn’t at the time), you are prepared to go into the world and make a difference. Though many of you may end up doing something other than what you expected, that’s okay.

Be eager, be ready, and be hungry; you may perhaps do a job you didn’t anticipate or want originally. The key is to get started somehow on something. Stay positive, as this too shall pass. I am confident that Knox students will go out and make sure that the world is for sure a better place when we come out the other side. The world needs Knox graduates now more than ever!! Be proud, hold your head high, and say, “I went to Knox College.”