What ideas and solutions do students have for New York schools to support their mental health?
Last week, The Education Trust–New York hosted the second of its series of student-led roundtables on school reopening. At the event, students from across from across New York State came together for #OurReopening: How Can Students Feel Safe and Supported Next Year? where they engaged in a lively discussion on what mental health supports would be helpful for them and their peers next school year, how educators can engage with students, as well as what mental health really means to them after learning and living through the pandemic.
Seven panelists joined — all of whom are advocates for student mental health through their own clubs, organizations, poetry, and more — to bounce ideas and experiences off each other while the audience listened in. A common theme students expressed was how schools can value quantity over quality and make them feel pressured to fit into a specific mold of a person. This feeling, they said, can sometimes be enforced by school staff, which can be challenging because school is where they spend most of their time and where they socialize. And because school plays a big role in their lives, it can very easily impact their mental health — for good or worse.
When asked about how schools could support them this upcoming school year, students had a range of ideas from: creating spaces where school work isn’t allowed for students and school staff to chat; offering anonymous ways of outreach such as a comment jar; circulating ‘get to know you’ forms in the beginning of the year that ask about triggers in the classroom; and prioritizing breaks in the school schedule and activities for students to reconnect with one another.
And for those students who may be struggling in class, students said they may need a break from the classroom to get a drink of water, use the restroom, or walk the hall to clear their mind and refocus. The panelists reiterated that teachers need to recognize there is very likely something going on with the student that is causing them to need a break or be disengaged, and to try to understand what is happening first before reacting.
Above all, while students expressed that they are not asking for their teachers to be counselors, they do think it’s important for teachers to understand and recognize how they, and the social environment of school, can contribute to mental distress for students.