By: Caroline Spearman PsyD., BCN

The COVID-19 crisis is certainly upon all of us in the DMV area and we are now living a new normal. Schools have been closed for two weeks, non-essential businesses have shut down, and it is nearly impossible to find ANY toilet paper at the local grocery store. Beyond these changes, the lives of our kids and teens have been directly and significantly impacted. I’ve had several discussions with families and students about the many losses they are now grieving in this new normal. They are not sure when they will be able to reschedule their special 9th birthday party that they were so looking forward to. Their spring track season got canceled, which is usually their time to shine. Their senior projects, treasured senior prom, and perhaps even high school graduation now seem unlikely to take place. The abrupt and premature end of the school year means that students are now coming to terms with the idea that their lives have shrunk considerably and that their daily routine will be drastically different for quite some time.

Now let’s not forget about this pandemic’s impact on parents. In addition to conversations with kids and teens, I’ve also heard about many of the stressors that parents are now facing: the uncertainty of the economy, fear of furloughs and pay cuts, worrying about the health of their families, and scrambling to find that ever-precious toilet paper. On top of all this, parents are now being asked to guide, proctor, monitor, and track their children’s online schooling. Not even Mary Poppins could handle the number of stressors that parents are now facing without some adversity. Tamar Chansky Ph.D., a renowned expert in anxiety treatment, recently wrote an appeal to lift some of the pressure during this pandemic by canceling grades and moving to a Credit/No Credit system like Harvard Law School just did. Dr. Chansky makes many valuable points that I will reiterate to help her message gain traction, as it is an important one:

· Dr. Chansky highlights that the increased anxiety, uncertainty, stress, and fear that have come with the COVID-19 crisis directly impact students’ ability to focus on schoolwork and prioritize their grades on tests.

· She expects that this crisis will have a lasting impact on our students’ mental health, which means it is time to step back, look at the big picture, and ease the pressure by canceling grades.

· Dr. Chansky insists that worrying about grades is more of an obstacle to learning than an incentive. Students are much less likely to do their best work when in panic mode and rigid expectations will only increase worry and stress.

· She implores administrators and teachers to remain flexible and prioritize quality learning over quantity of assignments. By doing so, teachers can have meaningful discussions with their students and students can explore the intrinsic value of learning and working hard.

· In the end, everyone receives credit unless they have been completely absent in the class. Without the constant worry about grades, students will sleep better, be healthier, and will stress less.

Keep up the great work teachers, administrators, parents, and students. We are all figuring out this new normal together, one day at a time and can all benefit from some added flexibility, understanding, compassion, and connection in our lives and in our students’ schooling.