COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — The COVID-19 pandemic, violence in schools, and economic concerns are just some of the reasons for an uptick in anxiety and other behavioral health conditions in students.

As the new school year begins, there is a renewed focus on students’ well-being.

Jacob Kelly, 16, admits he has some anxiety starting Junior year at Coventry High School. He says his biggest concern is “that the teachers will give us a higher workload and that we need to adjust after having our modified workload.”

His father, John, agrees.

“We have a 16-year-old that hasn’t experienced a full regular year of high school at all and I think I have a fear as a parent that the training wheels are coming off in a sense and I worry now that teachers won’t be cognizant of that,” he explained.

However, it’s clear that school districts are aware of the need for a stronger focus on a student’s overall well-being.

Coventry High School Guidance Counselor Lou Ruffolo told 12 News the district has taken steps to integrate social-emotional learning into its curriculum.

“Teachers doing check-ins with students and conferencing on how they are doing in general, to topics what’s in each of their areas that might have threads of social, emotional, and mental-health contributions,” Ruffolo said.

Kelly is also concerned about managing a heavy course load while also navigating sports and social life in a more normal setting.

“Sometimes I just need space or someone to talk to about it, sometimes I need someone to push me harder than I think I can go, it honestly changes depending on what I am feeling anxiety about,” he said.

Health experts at Bradley Hospital outlined three key steps families can take right now and throughout the first few months of fall to foster a stronger sense of well-being in teens.

“Plan ahead,” Dr. Tanuha Gandhi said. “Have a schedule and think about everything you would need to do once school starts back up because now we are going back to school in person.”

“The second thing would be to have a conversation with your child about what this transition can be like for you, your child, and your family,” she continued. “I think it’s also important for parents and children to have a small block of time carved out to spend time together for self-care and to make sure you’re still having time to build on your relationship and bond together as a family.”

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