The need for a dialogue on American’s mental health needs

Pearl Vishen, Mihika Balaji, Vaneet Pani

Junior year. One of the most academically challenging years coupled with a deadly pandemic is a recipe that can only create disaster. With us unable to attend in-person schooling without the risk of death, there has been a disconnect between staff and our student body that we hope to be able to bridge through open communication. On Saturday evening, a group of us students—Pearl Vishen, Kavin Goyal, Mihika Balaji, Vaneet Pani—released a survey to gauge our student body’s overall mental health.

This entire first semester at school has felt extremely stressful for many students. It wasn’t uncommon for us to break down over school and worry about the number of annotations we might have due at 11:59 P.M. the same night, coupled with a test in another class that counts towards 40% of our grade. Distance learning has made the only way that we can really learn the material an endless cycle of staring at blue light for six hours of online lectures followed by another six hours (at least) of online homework, which then might be followed by hours of studying for a test the next day.

It’s important to remember, however, that many teachers are also forced to talk to a mostly silent computer screen, despite their best efforts to make class engaging. This sudden shift from school to home has given teachers little time to create lesson plans that students will absorb and retain knowledge from. For example, certain classes have considerably cut down workload from previous years, and teachers have been especially flexible for students who have requested extensions for projects and assignments. In addition, some teachers have sent out weekly check-in surveys to get a grasp on their students’ mental health and ask students to recommend how class should be conducted. Other teachers have even allowed extra time to study for tests for students who have been facing difficult issues at home and plan to host study sessions for tests after school.

As of Tuesday the 15th, we have received over 800 responses in under 72 hours, and the results are alarming: our students are overwhelmed, and their mental health has been rapidly declining. The following statistics have been pulled from Sunday evening:

On a scale of 1-5 (with 1 representing excellent mental health and 5 representing terrible), 47.2% of students indicated that they were struggling while only 19.5% indicated that they were in a good mental state. 

Furthermore, on a scale of 1-5 (with 1 representing not overwhelmed at all and 5 representing extremely overwhelmed), 80% of students reported feeling increasingly overwhelmed due to classes and school work. 

Sophia Chiu (11) expressed the sentiments of her peers, noting that “[T]rying to maintain passing grades between general pandemic stress / limitations, amplified family issues, virtual fatigue, and debilitating mental health issues has drained [her] of all energy” and has “left her [no] time to take care of basic needs.” 

These were only two of the questions on our fifteen question survey, but the summarized results displayed a clear trend of COVID-related personal issues and heavy loads of schoolwork (amplified by the coming finals) have been highly destructive to the mental health of our student body. 

Areeba Asaduzzaman (10) wrote on the behalf of the stress being felt by both students and teachers: “It’s not fair for both teachers and students that teachers are being expected to teach the same amount of work they taught while we were in person with way less hours of school and no legitimate guidance on how to make lesson plans more engaging online.” 

Some students, including Vincent Nghiem (9), write in favor of potentially instituting a system in which finals could only boost student grades instead of lower them, remarking “The aforementioned damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has on my and probably many other’s academic progress has only made the path to finals (studying and preparing for them) much worse in terms of mental health, especially in full awareness of the destruction that finals could bring to grades. By implementing the finals-grades system that James Logan has, it would make us as students considerably happier and as a [bonus] give a chance for people to increase their grades had they fallen previously during the pandemic. It would lift a load off our backs and realign our minds with things that would be much better in the long run (including the maintenance of our mental health).” 

Others, such as Perry Chien (11), have urged for more effective communication methods to help ease struggles “If I have any questions or misunderstandings about a certain topic, my only solution is to either consult my teacher or to look for the information online. However, either of these aren’t always that convenient as the former isn’t that easily accessible (as School Loop/Office Hours are my only platform choices for this method) and the latter might not always provide me with the specific answer I’m looking for (sometimes different sources would have different responses too, and that can be pretty frustrating/disastrous for me).”

Previously, the district funded a Student Resource Officer program in which officers from the Fremont Police Department would be placed at school. The district has since overturned this decision and has decided to divert funding towards mental health resources, which are absolutely crucial right now, considering the separation between students and teachers. 

On Sunday evening, we worked alongside our school’s Inclusion Coalition to email the Principal, hoping to schedule a meeting to discuss the results of our survey. As of Tuesday morning, we have yet to receive a response. Both staff and students are drained, and mental stability is declining by the day. Our main goal as of now is to work with the administration to figure out how we can approach finals and the second semester to ensure this entire online schooling experience supports both staff and students. 

However, our issue goes far beyond how finals are conducted. We must continue to advocate for change that will support the mental health of all the people of American High. However, this dialogue goes far beyond the reaches of our own school, we must bring this to FUSD.  If we don’t voice our concerns, there will be no change. 

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