School psychologist on mental health needs: ‘More significant than anything we’ve ever seen’

School psychologist on mental health needs: 'More significant than anything we've ever seen'

SALEM, Mass. — Kristin Pangallo is a mother of two elementary students in Salem schools and is a member of the school committee.

As she works with district leadership on return-to-school modes, she’s also getting her girls mentally ready for a possible return in the fall.

“Frankly, our children can’t learn if they don’t feel safe and if they’re not comfortable,” said Pangallo.

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It is a conversation parents across the commonwealth are having with their children. In recent guidance from the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), mental health supports are mentioned in two sections.

Tim Potts oversees counseling at Salem Public Schools. He said the district is planning what mental health services will look like physically and in practice assuming students return to classes in fall.

“We’re looking at surveys we’re looking at reaching out individually, reaching out in groups,” said Potts about engaging parents in the process.

The district is considering plexiglass dividers for counseling and testing, though that may create a whole new issue.

“We use our faces so much and we teach children to recognize faces to develop their social emotional skills, when we take that away how are we communicating with them in a way that they are still able to connect with us?” said Potts.

Potts says that may impact cognitive testing for students who may have disabilities. For other students, he expects mental health services to be leaned on more than ever before.

“Not only are we dealing with the pandemic, we are also dealing with conversations of race,” said Potts. “We have not been with our students during these major world events.”

Schools are waiting for a list of new guidance the state promised for some point this month. Boston 25 News did not hear back from DESE after asking when the guidance is anticipated.

Districts like Salem are tasked with developing three scenarios for a return to school in-person, remote learning and a hybrid of the two.