Raphael Jacobson, Grade 12, Journalism Student
As we mark one year of the pandemic, many are facing what they describe as the “pandemic wall.” Some students report being burnt out, tired of an uneven work-life balance as they feel expected to be accessible at all hours of the day. Many share that they are struggling to balance their responsibilities and their mental health.
As we hit this milestone, Common Sense wanted to check in with students at the High School of American Studies.
Adin Linden, a freshman, believes that the pandemic hurt his mental health, as it has “limit[ed] social and emotional connections with peers.” When asked how HSAS could be more supportive, he said he would like there to be more facilitation of social opportunities, especially as a new freshman.
Noa Yolkut, a sophomore, also has felt the effects of the pandemic on her mental health and is approaching the pandemic wall. “Virtual learning has definitely affected my mental health,” she said. “I haven’t seen any of my friends in person since September and we never have time to interact in class.”
“Because teachers can assign work at any time, I’m always worried that I will have more coming in, whereas, during normal school, I knew exactly what I had to do that day,” Yolkut added.
Alia Scheuneman, a senior, has also felt the effects of living and working out of the same space for almost a year, saying her mental health “goes up and down,” and while there are moments when she feels fine, “overall it’s gotten worse.”
With limited options for social interaction, she said, “I have found that I … have to get more creative with ways to cope since I pretty much just have my home and my neighborhood to work with.” When asked what she does to help her mental health, Scheuneman stated she takes walks and puts effort into enjoying them.
For some students, there is only so much they can handle on their own, and the emotional strain of the pandemic has driven them to seek professional help. “The pandemic had definitely taken a toll on my mental health,” shared an anonymous junior. “I thought that I was fine during the first few weeks of quarantine, but, as the months dragged on, it got worse and worse… The pandemic situation actually pushed me to seek professional help again. I know there are many other students who have also experienced more anxiety and depression during quarantine.”
Teachers understand that students are struggling. When asked if she has noticed if her students are struggling with their mental health, Ms. Rockfeld, who primarily teaches seniors, acknowledged that she is struggling as well as she hits her “second pandemic wall.”
Having seen two senior classes miss large portions of their senior year, she cannot determine who has had it worse. “[The class of 2020] had [their senior experience] yanked from them. This year [the class of 2021] entered knowing it. It has been a great loss and trauma.”
When asked what HSAS could do to be more supportive of students’ mental health needs, those interviewed responded that they generally rely on school for mental health support. Ms. Rockfeld acknowledged this reality, saying, “We [the faculty] have come up with nothing.” She added that in normal times, students have approached her for support, but because of virtual learning “we have not been able to form the trust and relationship really needed for that to happen.”
Despite not relying on teachers for mental health support, a common feeling among students was that there could be better communication, both among faculty and between students and teachers, when it came to assigning work. One student described having 11 assignments due the Wednesday after returning from February break.
Yolkut recommended restricting what time teachers could post homework by, saying “it would really take that weight [of the constant work cycle] off my shoulders.”
Students are hitting their pandemic wall, and it seems that the only solution that would meaningfully improve their mental health is an acknowledgement of the reality that it is hard to function after a year of being shut in and a significant work reduction.
Art by Raphael Jacobson, Grade 12
Students hit the pandemic wall as remote learning continues.