By: Ava Bialow
2020 was a year of new experiences and challenges for everybody. Education-wise, most can agree that the most significant change was switching to online classes. Teaching and learning remotely was a difficult adjustment for everyone. Studies have shown that certain aspects of online school have caused increases in mental health problems in students everywhere. For example, the lack of social interaction has caused elevations of loneliness and isolation. In addition, staring at a screen for extensive amounts of time can cause harm to both teachers and students. During a period where physical health and well-being are being prioritized because of the pandemic, it can feel especially challenging for people to give equal attention to their mental health. The current situation has made it difficult for some to receive the care and help that they need. To get a better idea and understanding of the effects of online school on the mental health of students in my own community, I interviewed Ms. P and Mr. Hagen on the topic.
To begin, Mr. Hagan brought up a great point and another reason why online learning makes it harder for students to get the right support that they need. “What worries and concerns me is that there are a number of students that are fully remote who no teachers, counselors, or staff get to see. And sometimes, it’s those moments of being in a physical space with somebody where you can recognize that they might need a little bit of support and maybe they’re not going to ask for it online.” Some students have chosen to take fully online courses for various reasons which causes further limitations to their social interactions. If a student is fully remote and needs some sort of guidance or support, it can feel scary to email or reach out to schedule a conference over Zoom. It’s a lot more natural and less stressful for students who are on campus to drop by Mr. Hagen and Ms. P’s rooms to chat if they are seeking advice. That is another advantage of going to school in person which Mr. Hagen touched on; talking with someone who is physically present in a space with you feels much easier and convenient than going out of your way to schedule a virtual meeting. As I previously mentioned, the limited social interaction that online school has brought to students has caused many to feel isolated and lonely. Ms. P explains how these feelings can greatly contribute to heavier outcomes regarding your mental health. “The very nature of all of the variables of what we’re navigating, in addition to the potential for greater levels of isolation, there’s the potential for greater levels of stress and worry.” These feelings of stress and worry can lead to harsher feelings of anxiety and depression. While remote classes do not directly cause mental health issues, there is definitely a correlation between the two that shows online learning has made things harder and more difficult for students and has been rough on their mental well-being.
One of my biggest questions was how Beaver is handling all of this and what we can do to improve. In response to this question, Ms. P referenced her experience at Beaver and how our community is constantly looking for ways to improve. “My experience at Beaver over the many years that I’ve worked here has been connected to this very question: How do we continue to elevate the importance of prioritizing and considering student well-being and mental health as a center of the student experience?… I think we’re all part of a community that’s committed and that means we have work to do every single day to continue to promote well-being for all.” Mr. Hagan answered this question by speaking on Beaver’s strengths and continuing to circulate this idea of working for constant improvement within our community. “As a society, we could do so much better prioritizing mental health and devoting the resources towards it. So, Beaver being part of society could also do better. I do think, however, that Beaver is ahead of the curve. I think Beaver has demonstrated a commitment to the mental health of this community by having three clinicians within the school, that’s more than many/most schools of our size would have. I think that’s a huge way that the school has demonstrated a commitment and something we’re doing well.”
At the end of the interview, I asked Ms. P and Mr. Hagen if they had any advice for students on taking care of themselves and if they had anything else they wanted to share. “We really want to encourage people to find those places to lean,” Ms. P advised, “find those people to talk to and to know that whatever it is that you’re going through, you don’t have to be alone with it.” In addition, Mr. Hagen encouraged that all students should be practicing self-care. “Developing and sticking to a healthy routine which includes self-care and includes fueling yourself for the day by eating proper meals, getting outside, getting fresh air, taking a break from your screen, getting exercise, connecting with friends and loved ones, getting dressed like you would if you were going to see people in person.” Overall, it’s very important that you are aware of your mental and physical health during this stressful time and to ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Additionally, it’s crucial to reach out and receive guidance if needed. Ms. P and Mr. Hagen agreed that “not everyone needs a counselor, but everybody needs people to talk to.” In conclusion, Mr. Hagen shared this message that is vital to always keep in mind, “in addition to being kind to others, be kind to yourself.”