Sept. 25, 2020

Want to know how school-aged children are managing during the pandemic? Ask them

Year-long study launched to understand how children are coping

Everyone from parents to teachers is talking about how young people are dealing with the unprecedented new reality of returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic — but how are the students themselves feeling about it?

A team of researchers from the University of Calgary has launched a year-long study to try to answer this question. It will ask 3,000 students ages 12 to 18 in Calgary and Edmonton how they’re coping with the ongoing crisis, investigating everything from their resiliency to their mental health.

Study of students to address uncertainty

The study surveying students is being led by Dr. Kelly Schwartz, PhD, an associate professor in school and applied child psychology at the university’s Werklund School of Education. Online surveys will be completed by students in Grades 6 through 12.

The study was launched on Sept. 8 and, before it wraps up by the end of the school year, it will survey students from four metro school divisions: the Calgary Board of Education, the Calgary Catholic School District, the Edmonton Public Schools, and the Edmonton Catholic Schools.

“Our study is one of the few that actually asks adolescents about their experiences as they return to school during the pandemic,” says Schwartz, adding it will identify self-reported psychological, behavioural, and learning needs of students that may have been impacted by the pandemic.

One thing we hope to do is address some of the speculation and uncertainty about how COVID-19 is impacting our youth.

"We hope to say, ‘This is where youth, themselves, are saying they’re not doing so well,’ but we also want to be able say, ‘Here is where they’ve drawn on resources to cope, adapt and flex as they’ve gone through this COVID-19 experience.’”

Research to include online versus in-person schooling

Over the course of the school year, students will complete four online surveys targeting mental health indicators, resilience factors, and adaptive behaviours, and explore how this self-reported functioning is related to their experiences of online versus in-person schooling, says Schwartz.

The research will help the four Calgary and Edmonton school districts support resilience factors already being accessed by students or that can be activated in the school setting, such as teacher support and referrals services, he says.

“We hope that other school divisions in Alberta and Canada will also benefit from the results of this study as they think about their students’ strengths and needs during the school year,” he says.

Along with Schwartz, the study’s research team are members of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). They include Dr. Carly McMorris, PhD, an assistant professor in school and applied dhild psychology at Werklund; Dr. Erica Makarenko, PsyD, director of integrated services in education at Werklund; Dr. Paul Arnold, PhD, director of the Mathison Centre and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the CSM; and Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts.

Dr. Kelly Schwartz

Study lead Kelly Schwartz from the Werklund School of Education.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary