To rebuild relationships in the classroom – and to help children forget about the stress and trauma of the past year – mental health experts say educators can start by setting aside time each day and allowing every student in each classroom to share their feelings and learn the basics of naming and managing their emotions. Child psychiatrist Matt Biel says the more schools invest in mental health and social-emotional skills training, the less likely children are to have more serious problems later in life. But Sheila says the short daily lessons of mindfulness at the beginning of each school day — and the opportunity to share “their” feelings and concerns with “their” teacher — were enough to get them through. “If kids don’t go back to school with more attention to safety, predictability, and building strong, safe relationships, they won’t make up for their learning,” Biel says. In the United States, where access to health care – especially children’s mental health care – is uneven and inconsistent, the difficult task of identifying and addressing the mental and emotional health of this pandemic generation will fall largely on the shoulders of educators. But there will always be children in need of more intensive intervention, which could involve social workers and school psychologists, if available, or referrals to a mental health specialist outside of school. Cortez Masto hopes the influx of federal funds will help other districts develop similar partnerships with child psychiatrists or find other solutions. “We need to give students the opportunity to share their experiences with the pandemic and give them a safe space to talk about it,” Sackett said. Sackett said the school is located in a predominantly Hispanic area that has been hit hard by the pandemic. At Hernandez High School in Chicago, teacher Lillian Sackett starts each day talking to students and then dives into a short lesson about mindfulness and other social-emotional skills. “Kids have been exposed to chaos, crisis and uncertainty for too long,” says Matt Biel, a child psychiatrist at MedStar University Hospital in Georgetown, “and not all schools and districts are equipped to address these complex mental and behavioral health issues and the unique needs of today’s students. But there’s good news for kids like Kai: Educators across the country say their top priority now is not to retake math or reading, but to help students cope with all the stress of the pandemic. She teaches English as a second language and found early on that many of “her” students’ families were facing significant stress from job loss and illness, in addition to the trauma that may have preceded the pandemic. For many kids, a little circle time in the morning with an attentive teacher or a casual conversation with the dean of the school is all they need. Beal says this type of stress can be hard on kids.