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WNY school social workers helping students cope through virtual meetings, counseling sessions

Area school social workers are staying connected with their students — even though they're apart — via FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and email.

HAMBURG, N.Y. — School is out of session for the foreseeable future. There's social distancing and working from home. These are trying times for so many people, but the changes to day-to-day life can be especially tough for children and teens.

Western New York school social workers are hard at work, even from home, to help students cope and try and navigate this new normal.

Face-to-face meetings have been replaced with meetings and counseling sessions via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom. There are phone calls and emails to check in with students, parents and even other social workers to make sure everyone is doing okay during an uncertain time.

While it's good to flatten the coronavirus curve, social distancing and isolation can wear on students, especially those that already suffer from anxiety or depression.

"It can lead to more anxiety and depression. Even being motivated to keep your daily routine or having a schedule or a regimen, it's hard for kids to develop on their own," said Tina LaMendola, school social worker at Hamburg High School.

LaMendola has continued her weekly coping skills support group and Gay-Straight Alliance meetings virtually so students can still get the help they need.

"When we end the meeting, they're smiling. They're laughing. They're engaged, and the kids will talk about how they feel so much better just to see other people outside of their family," LaMendola said.

Members of the New York State School Social Workers Association are in regular contact with each other to discuss the best ways to connect with students and share what tips or tricks might be helpful.

"A lot of social workers are doing really creative things like YouTube videos and posting coping skills on YouTube channels," LaMendola said.

LaMendola stresses that nobody has all of the answers right now, but listening and asking questions are two things can go a long way.

"So I think being watchful and mindful of just asking our kids, how are you doing? How are you holding up? Because I know, even for me, it's stressful. I think just listening and validating and reassuring and just telling them that we're going to get through this together," LaMendola said.

She said it's important to develop a routine at home, though she admits that there's no one size fits all approach. While consistency is key to helping students cope, she also encourages her students to incorporate a lot of what they love into their daily routine — going for walks, playing with their pets, listening to music, or playing sports (while maintaining that social distance).

"However it works for the family. That's the only way that you can adapt to this, but something of a structure and a regiment is going to be healthy, not only for that students mental health and family's mental health but also just having that routine consistency and structure is really, what supports the whole family together," LaMendola said.

Not all schools in Western New York have a social worker. If that's the case at your child's school, LaMendola recommends students reach out to a trusted adult or teacher if they need to talk about the problems they're facing while school is out of session.

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