A Vancouver Island University psychology professor will conduct research on the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on learning and mental health of students. (Stock photo)

A Vancouver Island University psychology professor will conduct research on the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on learning and mental health of students. (Stock photo)

VIU prof researching pandemic’s effects on mental health and education of grade schoolers

Researcher hopes to ask 90-120 families about their experiences over time

With virus exposures in schools and changing education models due to COVID-19, a university instructor in Nanaimo is interested in examining effects of the pandemic on student learning and emotional well-being.

Marla Morden, a VIU psychology professor and developmental psychologist, received $6,000 in B.C. Ministry of Health COVID-19 research grant money and wants to hear from families, particularly with kindergarten to Grade 4 students, about impacts of home-schooling, distance learning and classroom environments during the pandemic.

Morden and her team will be asking if distance-learning students will experience more isolation from their peers, and if there will be related behavioural and mental health impacts. If another suspension of in-class instruction occurs, would that disruption cause mental health issues for those students and how long would that last, researchers wonder. Morden also hopes to hear about positive experiences and unexpected benefits of education models that families have selected.

“I think we will see some behaviour and some mental health impacts for children because that’s what studies and parents are telling us, but I’m not sure how long-lasting it will be,” Morden said. “I’m hoping that we‘ll see even as early as next fall, or the following year, that children who are resilient will be back to normal, but it’s hard to say.”

Information will be gathered through “standard psychological-type surveys,” such as ones to determine parents and caregivers’ stress levels, and open-ended questions to both children and caregivers.

“We’re just giving them prompts and then we’re asking them to share their experiences about going to school this year…” said Morden. “We might ask, ‘How have your social relationships been? How have the teachers been? Have you found that there have been enough supports?’ and then just letting them share their experiences in a more open-ended way.”

Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has seen an increase of distance education enrolment in 2020-21, with K-9 registration recently halted due to demand. Denise Wood, teachers’ union president, said while she hasn’t heard from K-4 teachers about students expressing fears about coronavirus, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

“There’s high anxiety levels throughout the schools, at all levels,” said Wood.

RELATED: ‘Unprecedented’ rise in distance-ed students due to COVID-19

Students might not be explicitly expressing fears about the virus, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned, added Susan Riordan, junior school principal at Aspengrove School, an independent school in Lantzville.

“The age group I work with, they’re not likely to come and say, ‘Oh hi Mrs. Riordan, I’m really worried about COVID-19,’ but we might see anxious behaviours a little bit more…” said Riordan of her primary students. “They’re asking to wash their hands when they might not normally have been the type to do that. They might get upset if someone gets too close to them.”

Subjects will be tracked for five years, according to Morden, and while it may be hard to isolate the effects of the coronavirus, there could be other benefits to the research.

“It could help us to see if there’s any difference between the behaviour of mental health of children who are home-schooled and who go to [bricks-and-mortar] school,” said Morden. “We could see that there’s no difference there, so that would be really great, or we could see that one group has an advantage.”

Anyone wanting to take part in the research can e-mail Morden at marla.morden@viu.ca. She’s hoping to get in contact with somewhere between 90 and 120 families.

“I know a lot of families are really excited about this research and think it’s really important, so I want them to be aware that it’s happening,” she said.

For more information, visit wordpress.viu.ca/mordenlab.

RELATED: SD68 distance-ed registration on hold for now

RELATED: VIU faculty look at COVID-19 impact on community



reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Karl on Twitter and Instagram

CoronavirusVIU

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The pandemic seems to be a warning sign that humans are stretching the limts of our planet’s ability to support life, says letter writer. (Stock photo)
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Planet’s limits stretched

Let’s leave nature intact for future generations, says letter writer

A forested area of the Notch trail at Fairwinds Lakes District park in Nanoose Bay. (News Bulletin file photo)
Editorial: Don’t wait for pandemic to end to protect planet

This Earth Day, April 22, think about ways to protect the environment and combat climate change

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Nanaimo-to-Victoria route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two more COVID-19 cases identified as part of outbreak at Nanaimo hospital

Island Health says outbreak remains contained to one unit and the ‘hospital is still a safe place’

Beef. I noticed a man who had apparently toppled out of his wheelchair and was lying on Boundary Avenue near the hospital’s emergency department. I was shocked as numerous people casually walked by and ignored him. Thank you to the kind gentleman and others who did stop to offer help.
Beefs & Bouquets, April 21

To submit a bouquet or a beef to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail editor@nanaimobulletin.com

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

The Coastal Fire Centre is looking ahead to the wildfire season on Vancouver Island. (Phil McLachlan – Western News)
Coastal Fire Centre looking ahead at wildfire season on Vancouver Island

‘We’re asking people in the spring to be very careful’

There are lots of resources for seniors looking for information about COVID-19. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
COVID questions? Here are some phone-based resources available for seniors

Here is a list of numbers to keep on hand for Vancouver Islanders who aren’t fond of computers

Chum Salmon fry being examined with multiple motile and attached sea lice on Vargas Island. (Cedar Coast Field Station photo)
Study: Tofino fish farm sea lice infestations add fuel to push to remove open pens

Ahousaht First Nation asking for higher standards than what DFO requires

The City of Nanaimo will further investigate an initiative to set up two 12-cabin sites to create transitional emergency housing for people experiencing homelessness. (Black Press file photo)
City of Nanaimo will ask for expressions of interest to operate tiny cabin sites

Staff expresses concern about workload, councillor says sheltering people must take priority

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Most Read