There's no shortage of bad news, and I warn you that I'm about to compile some of it for you. But, humming quietly beneath the churn of trouble, there's also good news, in particular for our MMS community. During these taxing times, I offer five observations of real hope that spring from the work and talent of our educators and the resources generously provided by our families. This heavy lift by our whole community is what is keeping our students flourishing on campus.
The Troubling News:
The evidence looks clear: across our nation--and likely the world--the kids are not alright.
From July's report by the Center for School and Student Progress:
- "Students made gains during the 2020-21 school year at a lower rate compared to pre-pandemic trends, especially between winter and spring."
From November's study by the National Bureau of Economic Research:
- "We combine Spring 2021 state standardized test score data with comprehensive data on schooling in the 2020-21 school year across 12 states. We find that pass rates declined compared to prior years and that these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction."
Mental and Emotional Health
From the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Associations' joint October statement of a, "National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health." Salient points in the declaration include the following:
- "We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities."
- "The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country, we have witnessed dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts."
Tragically, according to June's CDC report, suicide attempts amongst youth have risen:
- "In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially girls.
- During February 21–March 20, 2021, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years than during the same period in 2019; among boys aged 12–17 years, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits increased 3.7%."
Anecdotally, unprecedented behavior problems are disrupting schools across the country, especially in middle and high schools. The situation at this Oregon middle school--in November it shut down for three weeks because it was not equipped to handle the disruptive, immature, and violent behavior of students-- is emblematic of what I am hearing from colleagues working in middle and high schools across the country.
Likely, there have also been deleterious impacts on the preschool-aged population. Whether from the isolation from peers and community to understandable parental vigilance and fear, efforts to keep children safe have also likely and unintentionally inhibited their development of social skills and executive functioning skills. As is well known, unstructured social play that is less adult-supervised is linked to greater development of crucial executive functioning skills (e.g. self-regulation, focus, planning, predicting future consequences).
The Hopeful News:
The problems are daunting, and I'm unaware of a global panacea. For our passionate school community, however, I have five hopeful notes to share.
- Montessori education is increasingly well documented for benefiting academic growth as well as emotional and mental health. There is much evidence showing the intellectual and cognitive benefits of Montessori education (the book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius is a good primer).
Just this fall, a comprehensive study was released sharing findings that those adults who learned in Montessori schools as children and/or adolescents have elevated psychological well-being compared to those who attend other schools, including other private, independent schools. (Full study can be found here.)
- Montessori education is a powerful builder of executive functioning skills. A study released in the American Journal of Education found that students learning in Montessori schools experience significantly more focus and internal drive than their counterparts in any other method of education.
- Multi-age classrooms empower differentiated instruction & learning. Presently, educators in conventional schools are struggling with curriculum that no longer matches their students' needs. Due to the isolation and continual remote learning, pre-pandemic grade-level standards are not matching the abilities of many U.S. students.
In schools that offer multi-aged/multi-grade classrooms, like authentic Montessori classrooms, individual student learning is already differentiated based on exactly where each individual student is at that moment.
In Montessori classrooms, learning has no ceiling; faculty are trained to adapt in order to meet the needs of each of their students.
- In-person learning is a priority. Given the damage the isolation and endless remote learning are doing to so many youth--along with the availability of vaccines for children six years and older, and the fact that COVID appears to be less dangerous for children--local and state governments are increasingly prioritizing in-person learning in school communities; this will benefit our society.
- Montessori education is becoming more attainable. Alongside our commitment to provide over $1 million in tuition assistance to give access to as many MMS students as possible, philanthropists and national organizations are working to make Montessori education more accessible. These facts listed above are likely why Jeff Bezos--a highly data-driven decision-maker-- recently donated $2 billion to support Montessori education for low-income children.
The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector is also engaging effectively in making Montessori education far more accessible to all children and adolescents.
What else can we do?
Adults in our society are struggling, too, with significant increases in mental health disorders and substance abuse. It's critical that adults take care of themselves. Self-care is not self-indulgent. It is vital in order to be able to show up with presence, calm, and love for our children and families. Seeking professional help for our or our children's mental health challenges is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage, commitment, and care.
It's also essential that you communicate any concerns that you have with your children's teachers. Educators see your children through well-trained lenses and care deeply for the academic and mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of each of their students. I have seen again and again the incredible outcomes of parents working in active partnership with their child's teacher. Together we form a powerful team that supports healthy development and resilience.
We at MMS will continue to rally every day to deliver safe, robust in-person learning and a deeply caring and supportive school community. I thank you for being part of this grand endeavor during such extraordinary times.