School is hard. Without a doubt, school has always been hard. Throw in a pandemic that completely uproots the school system engraved in students since they were five and it’s bound to be a disaster.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an intended and particular focus on mental health. While schools and school districts—including our very own Broward County Public Schools (BCPS)—have been concerned with the declining mental health of their students in light of a global dilemma, they never take into account that they themselves could be part of the stress.
The pandemic is hard enough without school; being isolated and living the same experiences over and over again every day is enough to tear a young, impressionable person apart. On top of that, students have high academic expectations pushed upon them.
Even in a pandemic, students are expected to perform well, earn good grades and build up their college resumes. For many, the workload seems never-ending and that vital separation of school and home has been lost as the two have seemingly merged into one.
For many, the workload seems never-ending and that vital separation of school and home has been lost as the two have seemingly merged into one.
Being at home for so long often puts your days in a habitual lull, a never-ending cycle that blends each day into the next. At school, socializing made each day different from the rest, as each interaction was unique. But without that, everything feels numb and the same as the day before.
The School Board of Broward County (SBBC) recognizes the mental health concerns of students, yet is taking a hands-off approach by forcing students to watch a meditation video once a week and navigate a mandatory five-hour course on January 26. Between the strenuous course length and the packing of it on a testing day, it seemed that the district wanted to “knock out” their mental health requirement in one pathetic blow rather than an adequately dispersed program.
Of course, it is imperative that conversations about mental health are brought up in a school environment, but the way they are being approached by the SBBC is unhelpful and frankly disappointing. In many ways, that five-hour mental health course was more trivializing than thought-provoking.
The information given during the dreadful five-hour program was mainly common sense and knowledge repeated so many times that students already knew it like the back of their hand. The constant repetition of data makes it appear as though the SBBC doesn’t really know what is good for students, nor do they care. Plus, the introduction of a random course constructed by random individuals highlights the immense disconnect between the district and its students. In short, it was not supportive at all.
The constant repetition of data makes it appear as though the SBBC doesn’t really know what is good for students, nor do they care.
It is hard to find a CCHS student who took the mandated mental health course seriously and even harder to find one who preaches its work, feeling that it healed their mental state in the span of a few hours. Rather than the district assigning a set mental health day once a year, lessons on mental health should be taught either weekly or monthly. This will encourage students to keep their mental health and the mental health of those around them constantly in mind and even facilitate open natural discussions about such issues for those who want to learn past the five-hour marathon currently set in place.
If the SBBC is truly committed to supporting their students through this tough time, they should focus on improving upon their existing resources and making it easier for students to seek help, especially virtually. Instead of mandating students to spend five hours watching mental health TED Talks, the district should require school therapists or guidance counselors to check on each and every student at least once a year. These check-ins would not have to be long and they do not need to be a free therapy session; they just need to be a safe, non-judgmental space that invites students to share how they are feeling and have genuinely constructive conversations about mental health.
Society has only recently pushed to eradicate the stigma around mental health and while initiative should be taken by the school board to bring awareness to the many issues students face, the idea of shoving five hours of mental health education into a neat, convenient testing day should not have been the way to do it.
Infographic by Arielle Kraus
Illustration by Sofie Kahlig