The last year-and-a-half has been one big bundle of stress for schools, students, parents and teachers. Nationwide, convenience just hasn’t been on their side.

Remote learning, social distancing, masks or no masks, the coronavirus pandemic caused more than just the illness itself — it resulted in a lot of pressure in and around schools.

The Knappa School District has taken a proactive approach by bringing in a community connector to help heal emotional wounds.

And they found just the right person for the job.

“My expertise is in education, I am a registered behavior therapist,” said Ian Knighton, the Knappa district’s recent hire.

Knighton works primarily with the students. “What I like to say is, I am enhancing the rich culture that has already been established here at Knappa, and trying to bridge the gap between the community and the culture of our school.”

In regards to COVID, he said, “Statistically, what has happened is we have been deprived of our social interactions in the world since December of 2019. It really took great effect in March of 2020.

“What I have seen is that our students are of the generation that’s pretty much technology dependent. But due to the fact that we went virtual in the hybrid schools, they really don’t have interest in using computers,” because students were always on computers during the pandemic.

“They have been socially deprived, and they’re not getting the social interaction that they normally get from their peers and educators in the school systems.

“That’s not just in Knappa, that’s nationwide,” he said. “I have seen it in different communities and different demographics.”

Knappa Superintendent Bill Fritz said the job of community connector “is a brand new position. Community members wanted to have a position like this in our school to support the students, the parents and the staff.”

The school district “went on a national search, and we ran into Ian, who was working in Hawaii at the time. It felt like it would be a good fit, and he’s been a great addition to our team.”

‘Reminds me of home’

Knighton, who worked in the Vancouver School District several years ago, is originally from Cuthbert, Georgia.

“Knappa reminds me of home,” he said. “I tell people that all the time. It’s two hours from Atlanta. You guys are two hours from Portland.

“I love it,” he said of the North Coast. “I love the weather, the scenery, the seafood … people have really made me feel welcome.”

If you see his office, Knighton also loves catch phrases and sayings that reinforce life’s positives.

“Anything that we do, we try to make sure that we love it,” he said. “My catch phrase is, ‘I love what I do.’ I’m a small-town boy. I grew up in a middle class home. My grandmother raised me, and I grew up in a very religious home. I was a singer.”

After graduating from high school, he said, “I matriculated at Albany State University, a historically black college, where I majored in music vocal performance. For a while I sang opera, and I went back to teach at my alma mater, went on to teach at another school, and one day just decided it was not for me.

“I got introduced to working in a classroom with people with disabilities and special needs. And I’ve now been doing that for 13 years.”

Knighton said he will soon finish his master’s in psychology and applied behavior analysis, and hopes to be a clinical psychologist.

‘A little sunshine’

Knighton has introduced some of his past life — the music — into his job as a community connector.

“I have introduced therapeutic practices, and also included songs that I have written to motivate children to be more social. I am planning on introducing a glee club, possibly for both the middle school and the high school, and also a friendship circle.”

Friends and a little sunshine, which people on the North Coast can use during the winter months. Longtime residents know all too well the winters can get depressing.

“The weather here — I love it — but gray is a color that really drains people out,” Knighton said. “People are deprived of sunshine. They need a little sunshine!”

In addition, “I am seeing this new form of disability called ‘failure to thrive.’ Failure to thrive (in relation to depression and anxiety) is when people don’t have a will to do anything. They are very anxious … they don’t have any goals or ideals.”

Meanwhile, he said, “I’m happy to be in the Knappa School District. I don’t think I could have found another place that gives me the ability to be innovative, artistic and nostalgic (‘I.A.N.’). I’m happy to be here.”

As a certified life coach, Knighton said he also does private consultation for in-home behavioral strategies. And he also gives voice lessons for aspiring singers.

Gary Henley is a sports reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 503-861-8493 or ghenley@dailyastorian.com.