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Faculty Focus: Dr. Elizabeth Englander / Psychology

It was early in 2020 when Dr. Elizabeth Englander and the staff of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) saw problems on the horizon. Not long after concerns about a burgeoning pandemic began closing down schools that spring, they were already planning how to help K-12 institutions, students and their parents. Dr. Englander was thinking even further ahead: how to help students when they returned to the classroom – something that is just happening more than a year later.

The first MARC offering on the topic was a webinar called “When the Kids Come Back,” held in spring 2020.

“It was the biggest response we’ve had for anything,” said Dr. Englander (and MARC was established in 2004). As a psychology researcher with a strong focus in child development, she’s researched what happens to children when their lives and families are disrupted, and they are out of school. “We realized very quickly that was going to be a problem,” she said.

As the pandemic wore on, the situation was clearly going to demand more. So, in December, Dr. Englander, along with Dr. Katharine Covino, an assistant professor of English at Fitchburg State University and the children’s literacy specialist in MARC, published The Insanely Awesome Pandemic Playbook: A Humorous Mental Health Guide for Kids. Caroline Charland contributed the illustrations.

Images of the Books' Covers

“We really worked fast, and I sort of brought all my knowledge of child psychology and social-emotional development, and Katy helped with the wacky humor,” Dr. Englander said. The drawings and jokes are designed to keep kids aged 8 to 11 engaged about a very serious topic.

The book teaches through both text and hands-on activities various ways to improve and maintain mental health during a pandemic, specifically covering problems with using (and overusing) screens, staying close to friends, talking with family, choosing fun and safe activities, and coping with any signs of depression or anxiety.

An early version of the book was tested by the authors on a group of fourth graders; it got a big thumbs up. Dr. Englander said thus far it’s her fastest-selling title. It’s accompanied by The Insanely Awesome Pandemic Playbook: The Educational Guide for Parents and Teachers. A follow-up book, The Insanely Awesome Post Pandemic Playbook: A Humorous Mental Health Guide for Kids is slated for late spring publication.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there,” Dr. Englander said. “And getting back in the classroom is not going to be the end of the issue.”

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