I often told my children, unless they had an 8x10 glossy photo of an event or occurrence or unless they were told a piece of information directly from the person(s) involved, it could not be considered a truth. In the last couple of months, 8x10 photos have been figuratively developed and words from the stakeholders’ mouths have been recorded. Across the country, students have spoken and it’s time to listen.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the mental health risks of young adults who are increasingly coping with anxiety and depression, as they begin to face life after high school. The article was based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey data on young adult mental health, which looked at a national sample taken during the last week in June. The results were unsurprisingly sober. Stress levels were high, with 40.9 percent overall reporting at least one “adverse mental or behavioral health condition.”

Likewise, this month’s edition of Success includes a link to an article about students who organized at a national level to gain student voice in district reopening plans and to advocate for better remote instruction and mental health services. The students teamed up with researchers at the University of Kentucky to conduct a survey of almost 9,500 students representing nearly every Kentucky county. The survey, “Coping with COVID-19 Student-to-Student Study,” found that a majority of students felt less engaged with schoolwork this past spring, and 84% reported taking on new responsibilities, including working and caring for family members. Students surveyed recommended that schools be more flexible about attendance policies and expand mental health services and opportunities for online college and career counseling.

Move School Forward, the national campaign created by a coalition of 14 student-led organizations articulated 10 principles for reopening that include listening to students, closing the digital divide, addressing basic needs, moving away from one-size-fits-all instruction and evaluation and creating an inclusive curriculum. The campaign’s principles are grounded in the idea that any conversation about reopening needs to address racial justice and the inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Student voice is important in developing district-wide solutions. It is an important part of engagement and research indicates that engagement fuels student success. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) of Ohio provides some outstanding resources for students with anxiety and mental illness arising from or exacerbated because of COVID-19.

As a career educator, one thing I know is that students will tell you what they think, how they feel, what they fear, to what they aspire, and what and how they want to learn. By including students’ passions in our instruction, district decision making and resource alignment, we give students voice, an essential element for developing success and keeping students engaged and connected – all critical to well-being.

Posted by Kim Miller-Smith on 8/31/2020