Image: Pixabay

Image: Pixabay

Back to normal? Post-COVID mental health concern, academic gaps among Mission students

Suicide-risk assessments up 50% among elementary students, superintendent reports

While Mission schools might be “returning to normal” next Fall, the superintendent’s year-end report highlighted how serious post-COVID fallout may impact education going forward.

Suicide risk assessments (SRA) were up 50 per cent this year for elementary school students, and there are academic gaps between students, according to the June 15 school board report.

“The scale of SRAs is far above what it was historically,” said Superintendent Angus Wilson. “I’m not talking about Grade 11s, I’m talking about Grade 5s – that is not good.”

A SRA is a report made by a teacher or principal when they see a student demonstrating concerning behaviour, and feel the student may be at risk of self-harm. Reports can be based on a variety of factors and identifiers, such as suicidal ideation.

There were 169 SRAs reported in the district this year, compared to 104 last year. Ninety-seven came from elementary schools, compared to just 46 the previous year.

Younger students accounting for such a large number of these reports is new, Wilson said, but Mission is not unique among B.C. school districts in that regard.

Similar numbers are being reported elsewhere, in what the superintendent called a “fairly universal phenomenon.”

Next year and beyond, his biggest concern is mental health among the student body. But success is difficult to assess, he admits, usually measured anecdotally from principals and teachers.

“We’re having to do far more work this year than we have in the past. Is it sufficient? Of course not, you can always do more of everything, more counselling, more resources and so on,” Wilson said.

“The good news is Mission has some really good mental health supports – both inside the school and outside of it. I worry about some other communities in that regard.”

How students’ mental health will bleed into the post-COVID learning outcomes is yet to be seen.

Although the most recent data (2019/2020) on graduation rates show an increase of 5 per cent to 76 per cent, Wilson said the Ministry of Education had instructed school districts to be more lenient when it comes to passing students during COVID.

“Say somebody got 44 per cent … Like, make that a pass, make it possible in some way,” he said. “So ours improved, but so did a lot of other peoples.”

He said schooling during the pandemic has created some disparity when it comes to outcomes, and any improvement reported may be a “blip.”

“Everyone is falling behind this year in the world, everybody missed part of their math class this year,” he said.

“You are not doing your reading and writing and arithmetic if you have other more serious concerns.”

Historically, graduation rates in Mission lag behind neighbouring school districts like Abbotsford and Maple Ridge, are similar with Chilliwack and above rates in Fraser Cascade.

Wilson said a variety of things can explain these statistics, such as socio-economic factors like housing stability.

If a student starts their education in Mission but moves away, it counts against the district’s completion rate.

“We have students that show up, they are here for a few years and then they are gone again. Getting them through school is certainly a challenge.”

Two of the district’s biggest successes during COVID have been providing equity and mental-health support for students, Wilson said.

“The challenge is looking ahead to next year, and recognizing the academic gaps from missed education, and the social emotional ones,” he said.


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