Communities of color hit hard by the pandemic face added trauma in return to school

BOSTON — According to the CDC, people of color are three times more likely to contract COVID-19. Statistics like those have dismantled some neighborhoods of color, and for the kids who live there, the impact on mental health and their education is critical.

It’s a reality Daniel Urizar and his wife know well. They have worked at Mass General Hospital for nearly two decades.

They worked through the pandemic, while juggling remote learning for their children Aiden and Arleth, who just graduated high school. It was tough. But Daniel says it’s what they signed up for.

“We love to be in that spot right now,” said Urizar. “Because our passion is to help others.”

Last spring, Urizar, his wife and both his in-laws contracted COVID-19. The Urizars have all since recovered, but facing a school year full of uncertainty continues to be a big challenge.

Urizar says middle-schooler Aiden is facing major anxiety and he’s not alone. Latinos for Education surveyed hundreds of Massachusetts Latinx, Spanish-speaking families.

Of those surveyed, 43% reported a decline in their kids' health since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Families reported their kids had a “fear of leaving the home, fear of family members leaving the home to work, and anxiety of being the cause for illness within many multigenerational homes.”

Some families reported their kids were “refusing to engage with parents or grandparents because they did not want to be the cause of having a family member fall ill and possibly die.”

“Having all the worries about the pandemic and then to ball all of that up and add a layer of back to schooling, anxiety, it can be a lot to handle," says Dr. Christine Crawford, a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the BU School of Medicine. Crawford says kids in communities of color devastated by the pandemic are experiencing an increased level of trauma.

According to the CDC, black and the Latinx population are nearly three times more likely to contract COVID-19.

A Washington Post-Ipsos poll found one in three (31%) of Black adults they surveyed knew someone personally who has died of COVID-19.

Dorchester youth activist Deandre Avant says it’s just another struggle for the Black community to deal with. At its height, Boston Dept. of Health data showed his neighborhood had one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the city.

“Kids don’t tell their parents or adults a lot of things they tend to communicate with people their own age or people who actually understand,” said Avant.

Crawford says kids have a lot to worry about, especially kids of color, because they’ve just seen the havoc this virus has had on their family structure, on their health and wellness.

“So going to school with that traumatic emotional toll can certainly make it difficult for these kids to focus and pay attention and to separate from their caregivers,” said Crawford.

Crawford offers these tips:

- Create space to talk about worries or fears

- Get kids back into a routine

- Model good behaviors in managing stress as an adult

And it’s important to remember kids need loving adults, not perfect ones.

Executive director of the non-profit Educators of Excellence, Sarah Iddrissu says teachers, especially those who live and teach in communities of color, are also dealing with COVID-19-related trauma.

“Teachers are not immune,” said Iddrissu. “They’ve likely lost someone as well. They’re going to need care and we’re asking them to care for students who are also carrying trauma.”

Iddrissu says districts need to make clinicians available for staff and kids this coming year. and accept this year will just be different.

She says another suggestion would be converting school resource officers into what she calls relationship managers; moving them out of a disciplinary role that may trigger students.

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