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Hilliard superintendent: Mental health takes priority over curriculum

A central Ohio superintendent is asking teachers to focus on mental health needs during this pandemic.

HILLIARD, Ohio — A central Ohio superintendent is asking teachers to focus on mental health needs during this pandemic.

Dr. John Marschhausen made the plea to teachers in Hilliard City Schools on Wednesday. He told 10TV guidance counselors in his district are seeing the toll COVID-19 has taken.

"Unfortunately, we've had a couple of students who have considered suicide. We had a suicide earlier in the school year. We have students who have been admitted to Nationwide Children's Hospital to get help," Marschhausen said. "It's real. It's not something that's just a statistic. It's something that's amplified because of this crisis."

Marschhausen said he wants teachers to slow down and adjust their lesson plans.

"Right now, we're asking teachers to balance and to talk," he said. "I don't want our teachers to feel the stress to get through all the content that you would normally get through in a traditional school year at the expense of not being there socially and emotionally for our kids."

Hilliard Schools is one of many districts following a hybrid learning plan. With students and teachers not together in-person every day, Marschhausen said expectations need to evolve not only in his district but across the state.

"How do we need to adjust the curriculum going forward? Because for me to give our teacher's permission in Hilliard to slow down, we're going to think of kids first and content second, I can do that in Hilliard. But, it's not just a Hilliard issue. It's an all of us issue," he said.

Dr. Parker Huston, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital, said teachers and parents alike need to change expectations. He said instead of waiting for the signs, you need to assume your child is feeling stress right now and talk about it - the good and the bad.

"What are the things that are most stressful for you right now? What is causing you the most difficulty? What's hard to get through? It's also important to ask, when do you feel successful right now? When do you feel comfortable right now? What made you feel connected to someone lately? In addition to wanting to assess the ways in which kids are stressed right now, we also want to give them some hope. We want to let them know there are things we can do to improve our mental health and resiliency right now when we need it," Huston said.

Huston said it is important to relax the rules when you can and give kids a break to do something fun.

"Give them that extra time to watch a favorite show that makes them laugh, listen to music in their room that makes them smile or makes them feel relaxed, sit down as a family and do relaxing things together when laundry may be piling up or the house needs cleaned," Huston said. "Just modify those expectations for yourself and everyone around you."

To learn more about the importance of children's mental health, click here. 

Franklin County has two resources of suicide prevention and information for residents: The Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children's Hospital. If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.