Colchester schools reach out to students too anxious to attend
By Kristina Tedeschi Wayne For The Bulletin
Posted Sep 12, 2017 at 4:38 PMUpdated Sep 12, 2017 at 4:38 PM
COLCHESTER — A pilot program aimed at helping students with anxiety and depression who find it difficult to regularly attend school is under way.
The program, which is new this school year, is currently serving four high school students who experience school refusal — a disorder that occurs when children refuse to go to school or have difficulty staying in school — and will likely serve more students as the program becomes more established, says program leaders Joshua Vinoski, assistant director of pupil services and special education, and Carissa Capozzi, a licensed clinical social worker.
School refusal, also known as school avoidance, is different than truancy, said Capozzi. Truant students skip school because they often have no interest, she said, while school refusal students are simply too anxious to enter the school environment and, in the cases of some students, have trouble leaving their homes at all.
Children with school refusal may complain of physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches before school, or repeatedly ask to visit the school nurse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website. If the child is allowed to stay home from school, their symptoms will disappear, but reappear the next morning.
According to the ADAA, anxiety-based school refusal can surface around ages 5 and 6 and ages 10 and 11, or around times of transition, and is thought to affect between 2 percent and 5 percent of school-age children. Students who experience it have either average or above-average intelligence.
More info: To learn more about the pilot program or to volunteer your time, visit the open house at Jack Jackter Intermediate School, 215 Halls Hill Road, on Sept. 28 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., call Carissa Capozzi at (860) 537-9421, ext. 178 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students in the district program receive counseling, often at home after school hours, to help them learn coping strategies and techniques to foster resilience, according to Capozzi, in efforts to help students before they stop going to school altogether. The students also receive academic support through the program.
The idea for the program first came to Vinoski at the end of the 2016-17 school year, when he received a letter from a parent stating that her son was “suffering in silence,” and highlighting the fact that there were no school resources in place to help him. When Vinoski began to look into the problem, he says he realized other students were struggling with school refusal, as well.
“I was just shocked at how many kids there were,” he said.
Vinoski says he identified half a dozen school refusal students at the high school, and expects there are more at the middle, intermediate and elementary levels.
“There’s lots of programs for ‘acting out’ kids, but there really isn’t anything for kids with anxiety and depression,” he said. “I thought, ‘why not just do it ourselves?’ ”
The program is “evolving,” Vinoski said, who hopes the program will grow to eventually reach students at a regional level. He said the number of students with school refusal seems to be growing, largely because of a general feeling of disengagement among students which he attributes to the widespread use of technology and lack of meaningful social relationships.
“They have so much to offer the world, but they’ve just become so detached,” he said. “They just isolate themselves, more than kids have in the past.”
Forging relationships with adults that care about them, be it a teacher or community member, and making “connections” with others are ways to help students with anxiety and depression, both Vinoski and Capozzi said.
“They’re so disengaged, not just from school but from the town they live in,” said Capozzi. “Having caring adults in these kids’ lives is what’s going to make the difference. As a town and a community, we have to start looking at what we can do to help. You never know when you’re in a position to change someone’s life.”