One major, yet underexamined, issue in the publicly contentious process of closing schools is the psychological impact on young children.
More than half of the schools that are slated to close at the end of the school year are elementary schools. This will force many children to change schools. The change could have a significant impact on the development of these children psychologically, some experts contended.
Dr. Richard Irlando, a psychiatrist, said he believes that forcing these young children to change schools could potentially have huge ramifications. “There will be a definite impact on the way they behave and the way they perform in school,” Irlando said. “Most often when children act out in school they are doing so because of external factors.”
Irlando explained that during the time children are in elementary school they start to go through a period known as formative years. “During these years, children start to develop psychologically and any major traumatic event such as being forced to change school could greatly impact the psychological development of a child,” Irlando said.
Irlando explained that “the brain is not fully developed until 24 or 25. Specifically the cortex is not developed and it is one of the last parts of the brain to develop.” Irlando further said the cortex is responsible for many vital functions. The cortex is responsible for language, processing information and memory.
While some might question whether children will be affected psychologically, Irlando said he believes the answer is simple, “There is no debate,” Irlando said. “There is no question they will be impacted.” He explained that people of all ages would be affected by a change as big as this one. “The fact is that people regardless of their age are resistant to change once they know that a change is happening it is all about finding a way to best deal with the change,” Irlando said.
Linda Brockway, a social worker, is much less certain than Irlando about the psychological impact on the young children. “There’s no easy answer to the question of whether or not the kids will be impacted psychologically,” Brockway said. “It will depend on what goes on in the homes of these children. If their parents are there to help, then
I think there will be less of an impact.”
Brockway said she believes that some of the burden is on the faculty of the schools that are taking in students. “The faculty will have to vigilant and monitor the students closely and if they notice any behavior out of the ordinary, they will have to act quickly,” Brockway said.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 50 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15 do not seek mental health services if they need it. Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental reports that only 37 percent of children with depression seek the necessary treatment.
Even though Brockway and Irlando disagree on the potential psychological impact of changing schools might have on the young children, they agree on one thing. Both agree that the amount of friends that transfer to the new school would have a tremendous impact on the transition. “If the child has a nice core group of friends in the new school, it will make the transition much easier,” Irlando said.
Brockway echoed that view. “The friend situation in the new school will be key in aiding the transition,” she said.
In order to help aid in the transition of students moving out of the closed Alexander Wilson Elementary School, Maurice Jones is leading the transition program at Henry C. Lea Elementary. Lea Elementary is absorbing some students from Wilson, which will close at the end of the school year.
“Right now everybody in our school has a pen pal in Wilson,” Jones said. “We think the pen pal program will help the students get to know one another before they meet face to face.” However, the transition efforts do not stop there.
A picnic is scheduled to have the Wilson School students interact with Lea School students so they can start to get know each other before the first day of the next school year.
The Philadelphia School District was unavailable for comment.