Balancing School, Mental Health and COVID-19

During COVID-19, it is more difficult than ever for students like me to balance school and taking care of our mental health.

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Wants to help accurately portray the knowledge and educated opinions of teenagers in the Pelham School District by creating a platform where students can express their view on real world topics such as politics, culture, and sexual health. Volleyball player, member of her school's student council and lover of TV.

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I am a stereotypical overachiever. I take the hardest classes, get all my work done on time and strive for the highest grade possible. The education system sees my transcript and believes that I am a happy, successful teenager, but thinks nothing of my mental health.

My school district has yet to understand the importance of a teenager’s mental health, and how the school curriculum directly affects it. The health course I had last year contained a lot about suicide awareness, drugs and overall bodily health, but mentioned nothing about easing stress caused by work or school. Maintaining straight A’s in honors classes was not only stressful but time-consuming. It kept me from taking part in activities I enjoyed and gave me anxiety about ever scoring anything lower than 90%. The pressure and constant, endless workloads not only affected me but my closest friends. I watched as my peers and I became less eager to learn about the subject, instead of thinking only about the grade. As our spirit was slowly diminished, our mental health went with it.

This is why the third Move Schools Forward principle is so important to me. It states that students’ basic needs must be completely met. Although students’ mental health has only recently been a topic of discussion, it is arguably the most important issue in schools. The enormous amount of homework, tests, deadlines and overwhelming information has caused kids in my school to deter from actual learning and resort to the memorization of facts. If my school were to focus more on getting students to learn information instead of reciting it, then it would help ease the anxiety and stress of our student body.

I have not seen or heard my school reach out to students about their thoughts on school reopening. Many emails have been sent to the parents of students, but none to the actual students. While parents are also affected by children going back to school or going all virtual, many have not thought about the larger affect it has on the kids. Some students in my grade may have unhealthy home environments and are yearning to go to school to feel safe. Others may feel the opposite, thinking that going to school is completely unsafe and that they would rather stay home. There should have been, and still should be, an email or survey sent to the students in my district that discusses their feelings on the matter. My peers and I are affected by this issue, and our opinion on the matter was not heard. I find this unfair, and an example of how students’ basic needs are not being met in my district.

In school, I had access to many of the school’s guidance counselors, therapists and social workers who were in the building and ready to help me at a moment’s notice. When quarantine hit, even though I had all the more reason to contact said people, I felt like it would be awkward and uncomfortable talking to them through a screen. With proper schooling gone, my main reason to get out of bed went with it. As I said, I was 100% focused on my school work and had devoted a big chunk of my time to it. When virtual school came rolling around and classes weren’t half as long, I found myself staring at a wall in my room, with fewer hobbies than toes on my left foot. I became slowly distant with my friends and eventually found myself spending whole days without talking to anyone other than my parents and brother. This was a time where I deeply needed to talk to someone. I thought about it a lot but was too anxious to do anything. My peers had similar experiences and also let their anxiety get the best of them. There were some students in my school who, like me, really needed to talk to someone about their mental health or home life, but couldn’t. According to a recent survey by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, 22% of students who were receiving some form of counseling before school closure now has limited or no access to those services, and an additional 32% said their mental health has worsened since schools closed. Countless districts are so focused on getting in-person school back, that they haven’t stopped to ask for the opinions of those who they are affecting.

I have a couple of ideas as to how my school district can fix these problems. First, the teachers need to be communicating their schedules and agendas with each other. Too often have I had an absurd amount of tests or quizzes on the same day. There should be a spreadsheet or calendar where teachers can see what other teachers assigned on that day, this is to not give students so much homework on one day that they don’t have time for other activities or extracurriculars. Second, weekly surveys should be sent out to students containing questions on their current wellbeing and mental health state. This private document would only be seen by the school counselors, and would allow shy or anxious kids to get the help they may need. Lastly, there should be information on stress management added to my school’s health curriculum. This would include a simple 1 or 2-day course going over coping strategies, how to effectively manage time, and where to get help if needed. These three solutions are critical if my district wishes to increase its students’ well being. My district needs to acknowledge the fact that it causes problems just as often as it solves them.