Massachusetts districts search for solutions to calm chaos at schools

BOSTON — The return to school this year is being met with a rising level of violence among kids. Districts across Massachusetts are searching for solutions as fights seem to be breaking out more frequently than pre-pandemic times.

With no one size fits all solution, schools and families are realizing the toll that an extended period of remote learning has taken. Teachers in both large and small districts are seeing a pattern of behavioral unrest and emotional damage among students.

“I think there are a lot of kids who didn’t learn the skills they would have last year,” said Dr. Ellen Braaten, a licensed child psychologist at Mass General Hospital.

Braaten told Boston 25 News that parents shouldn’t blame themselves for the difficulties students are having. She suggested some steps families can take to try to get kids back on track.

“To the best of your ability, make sure your kids are getting the right amount of sleep, the best kind of exercise…all the things that sort of went by the wayside during the pandemic,” Braaten explained.

Braaten said there are a number of different reasons why kids are struggling depending on each individual situation.

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“Kids who were doing fine for the first year or half-year of the pandemic are now showing signs of stress, chronic trauma, anxiety about the future,” Braaten said.

Lawrence Public Schools isn’t the only district in Massachusetts working to address a violent return to the classroom. While many schools aren’t seeing the same frequency and intensity of fighting, the trend is being felt all over the commonwealth.

“We’ve increased guidance counselors and social workers this year, which has helped students with the transition,” said Revere Superintendent Dianne Kelly. “We are spending more time than we typically would helping older students learn the routines and expectations to prevent issues that often land them in trouble, and that is helping create a calmer school culture.”

Kelly told Boston 25 News that her district has been working to help students understand basic routines, including being to class on time.

“We definitely are seeing challenges, but are working to provide the supports that prevent the challenges from becoming larger problems,” she explained.

A spokesperson for the Boston Public School district told Boston 25 News that BPS, “has not experienced a marked increase in misconduct this year” but is still addressing the situation.

“The district has invested in [a] historic number of social workers and family liaisons in our schools to mitigate various problems and support our students as they reacclimate to being in school buildings,” read a written statement. “BPS remains committed to promoting our students’ social, emotional and physical well-being, and providing them with an excellent and equitable education.”

Programs across Boston and other inner-city communities are also seeing an impact of a long stretch without in-person resources or extracurriculars.

“They lost a lot of ground in terms of social-emotional education, which is just as important if not more than academic education,” said Emmett Folgert, program coordinator at Safe City Dorchester at MissionSAFE.

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Folgert said many kids he’s seeing are reeling from so many losses and believes it’s going to take a while for kids to readjust.

“It was like the aftermath of an apocalypse, from a teen point of view,” Folgert added. “We got to pay a lot more attention to them. We got to give them more opportunities for social-emotional learning. Right now, we got to pour it on.”