As many of our nation’s young people returned to school campuses to reconnect with teachers, coaches, and classmates this fall we rejoiced in their voices and comradery from the bus stops, classrooms, and playgrounds. These sounds take on a greater meaning as we reflect on the significant learning and relational losses that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on students globally. With the recent declaration from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association that there is a national emergency in our children’s mental health, we must respond with the urgency, commitment, and will that is necessary to support them. To help prevent further impacts on our young people, adults from all corners of society must step up now like never before.
The READY SET campaign is an initiative created by the CAA Foundation in partnership with MENTOR, VolunteerMatch, and AmeriCorps to mobilize Americans to meet this urgent need for student support and help drive educational equity through mentoring, tutoring, or volunteering. As U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel A. Cardona remarked at the campaign launch, tutors and mentors play a crucial role in boosting the academic, social, and emotional learning that is so central to students’ thriving and striving, and often is especially needed for students in under resourced communities and schools. He reiterated this message in this op-ed for USA Today co-authored with U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, citing the READY SET initiative as a pioneering program that will support students’ mental health.
The statistics surrounding the growing number of children and teenagers experiencing crisis in this country are staggering, with children of color disproportionately impacted. At this writing, more than 140,000 children have experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver due to the pandemic. Bellwether Education Partners reported at the outset of the school year, “For approximately three million of the most educationally marginalized students in the country, March  might have been the last time they experienced any formal education — virtual or in-person.” This loss of a traditional bricks and mortar education – a source of stability and basic needs for many children – for more than a year during a global crisis left a gaping and perilous void for our nation’s young people, and we are witnessing those effects now in the form of a national mental health emergency as navigate this critical transition.
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