School’s out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean that the needs of students have stopped. In light of the coronavirus upheaval and continued unknowns, the needs are even more pronounced. Almost as soon as schools closed in March, a school counselor at Lincoln Charter School, Lisa Donnellan, stepped up to help fill the needs of students. 

Donnellan also has a private practice which has become much more active due to COVID-19. Her normal clientele is aged five to 18, but she’s been getting new referrals of females in their early 20s in college who are struggling.

“This increase is due to anxiety over the unknown,” she said. “Not knowing when it’s going to end, if the internships that they had planned will ever come through and how that’ll impact their future. With the younger children I’m seeing an increase in separation anxiety at home with their parents and sleeplessness. I’ve got some having trouble falling asleep or those who wake up and can’t go back to sleep.”

The routines of most people were disrupted due to the pandemic and it is still unknown what school will look like in the fall. Like so many things, the routine and structure that is school may not have been appreciated as much as maybe it should have been.

Before schools were closed, LCS counselors ran a program called “Empowering Eagles.” This is a mentoring program which includes all students K-12. The counselors provide social emotional lesson plans to be discussed during that time. 

“A big focus leading up to COVID was about stress and anxiety management, healthy coping strategies, self-care and focusing energy on our ‘circle of control,’” Donnellan said. “We have been able to remind our students about some of these lessons during this time of social distancing. It has been nice to work off of that foundation.”

In normal practice, Donnellan uses a cognitive therapy approach which involves learning body signs so she can help her patients identify their signs of stress. These signs are different for everyone and once the indicators are known, at the first sign of stress, the patient can utilize the coping strategies that Donnellan had taught them like deep breathing, muscle relaxation and thematic imagery. 

In addition to counseling services, Donnellan has headed up a food drive and twice weekly delivery to families who are in need. Again, that didn’t stop with the end of the school year. Area churches and other organizations have stepped up to help fill the needs. Each counselor at LCS has a group of families that they keep in touch with to see what their needs are.

“The needs of these families have really changed,” she said. “One week they’re good, the next not so much. One thing that’s amazing about Lincoln County is that when we go through tough times, the community really comes together. We could not have made it through these difficult times without the support of these local churches.” 

The work that Donnellan and other counselors have been doing through COVID has led them to realize that starting a food bank at the school may be the next project they take on.

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