Now that classes have shifted to home-based, distance learning models, students across the United States most likely have many despondent feelings to deal with. It is tough on both teachers and students to figure out how to efficiently have an online class. Aside from the schooling aspect, kids might be more concerned with the toll that being home and distance learning is having on their mental health.
“Students are having a very difficult time staying focused. They are showing signs of depression in their lack of communication, which is ironic because they are being asked to communicate constantly,” said English teacher and ESE Support Facilitator, Ms. Allyson Giscombe, “No one is meant to stare at a screen all day, let alone in the same place he or she eats, relaxes, and sleeps…The intrinsic motivation isn’t there right now for some kids – and the reasons range from the anxiety of having to put food on the table because parents are out of work, to total isolation.”
Students are dealing with sudden changes in their social lives, daily routines, food and supply insecurity, and some may even experience unsafe home environments. These challenges that students have to face can bring up feelings of sadness, anxiety, and stress. School can be an escape from home life for some kids, and that is why it is completely normal to experience these emotions, especially considering the workload of a teenager in high school, which just adds to the stress.
Fort Lauderdale High School student Allyson Varela-Nava (11) had much to say about the impact of distance learning on her mental health.
“Personally, I learn better in the traditional classroom setting. I am a visual learner, so I like seeing the teacher physically explaining and demonstrating the subject. I also feel the most comfortable learning when I am surrounded by classmates. It is nice to have someone next to you who you can ask for help or just talk to while working,” she shared. “Being forced to do online school was a big change, it really affected me and my mental health. I had trouble focusing and I ended up falling behind. It was really hard for me to learn completely by myself. I got really stressed out and was constantly in a bad mood.”
Guidance Director Ms. McFadden also had insight on the impact of distance learning on students mental health.
“Students [and staff] are really struggling with the isolation and lack of social connection. This time has been very lonely and virtual learning has been a challenging adjustment for all involved. We have also had many families impacted by Covid, either themselves or someone in the family becoming ill with the virus, job loss or change, and other stressors caused by the pandemic.”
However, it is up to students to know when they need help. Whether it is seeking help from an adult, professional, or helping yourself, keeping mental health up during this confusing time in our world is insanely important.
FLHS Family Counselor Mrs. Butler-Romulus said, “Being able to practice self-care during this time is crucial for our mental health.” She went on to list some important tips on keeping one’s mental health up, as a student, while balancing distance learning with everyday life.
“Getting good rest, eating well balanced meals, or taking a daily walk, run, or bike ride can encourage mental health. School related tips include proper time management and reaching out for help when you need it. It is also very important to disconnect from social media, spend time with friends and family, identify your coping skills, and use them even when things are going well.”
Varela-Nava also had her own coping mechanisms to share for those who might be anxious to speak up about how they feel.
“I’m a dancer and musician, so I’m really attached to music. Since I don’t like to open up to others about my feelings, I rely on music to let out those emotions. Whether it’s a soft playlist to sleep to, or a dance playlist to make me move, I would try to keep myself relaxed and optimistic with music.” She also emphasized the importance of checking up on friends and family, “It’s always good to check up on others, you never know how someone is truly feeling until you ask.”
Ms. McFadden also wanted to stress the importance of reaching out.
“None of us need to handle this alone. The counselors are here as support for all students and staff and we truly believe the verbiage of ‘social distancing’ needs to be changed,” she continued, “We’d prefer to call it ‘physical distancing’ and remind everyone we thrive when we connect with others.”
For a guidance resource, students can check out the Guidance Canvas page for social and emotional resources, along with the contact information for all counselors, the family counselor, and our school social worker.
Ms. Giscombe wanted to remind students not everything about this situation is bad.
“I have seen one positive: students are more likely to advocate for themselves because one can ‘hide’ behind an email, so to speak. This creates a safe environment to practice self-advocacy skills, which is an extremely important life skill.”
Varela-Nava also shared what teachers can do to be more caring towards students.
“I think instead of scolding students for situations that are out of [their] control, they should try to be more understanding and see how they can help. At the end of the day their job is to teach, and our job is to learn, we have to find a way that works for both sides of the spectrum.” Mrs. Butler-Romulus puts it perfectly when she says, “The most important thing is to be in tune with your thoughts and feelings and reaching out to an adult if needed. We are all here to support each and every one of you.”