The year 2020 has been difficult for many people due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many students are facing obstacles that impact their social, emotional, and mental health. Though there are many challenges to overcome, there are equally as many ways for students to combat them.
One major difficulty that many students face is the inability to interact with their friends and peers as they would have prior to the pandemic. Maintaining one’s social and emotional health has become more important than ever before.
Nanuet’s school guidance counselors have commented on possible solutions for students who are feeling isolated while on a virtual or hybrid schedule.
For instance, Mrs. Miele has one simple tip that students can try as soon as today.
“It’s important when students are on class zoom calls for them to try to put their cameras on as much as possible,” Mrs. Miele says. “When attending a class virtually seeing other people’s faces makes the experience seem much more personal than just seeing blank screens.”
Although it cannot be a substitute for in-person learning, turning on cameras is highly encouraged by many teachers since it can make the class seem much more “real” and spark more in-depth interactions. It is difficult for students to engage in meaningful discussions when no one can see anyone else’s faces, and it becomes much easier to become disengaged and distracted.
Similarly, students should be aware that they are still able to be involved in clubs to help connect and maintain relationships with their peers. Teachers and guidance counselors alike encourage students to contribute to the school community, even if it’s done virtually.
Additionally, because of the complications caused by the current situation, some students may not feel entirely focused as much in school as they normally would. Whether due to external stress or feeling out-of-touch, there are many factors that may distract or prevent students from doing well in a virtual class.
For example, it is often very tempting to scroll through a phone instead of paying attention in class. Mrs. Hirsch, of the Guidance Department, has a way to combat this urge.
“If students put their phones or other distractions in another room while they’re working online in class, it could make it a lot easier to focus,” she says.
In addition to the distraction of phones and other mobile devices, learning at home has the added disadvantage of feeling relatively unstructured and free. Unlike when students are physically in a classroom meant for learning, it is easy to lose the feeling of having a structured day and end up developing unhealthy habits.
According to Mrs. Miele, students will feel better if they maintain a sense of structure.
“Having a schedule for themselves each day and trying to stay as organized as they can, maybe by figuring out a new organization style, are some major steps to take,” says Mrs. Miele. “Sometimes you may even need to go back to the drawing board, because what worked in school for you might not work when you’re at home.”
Staying on top of time management and organization is incredibly important when in a relatively unstructured environment and Mrs. Laurenzano has seen evidence to support this claim.
“Research shows that students should get up, shower, get dressed, and go to a designated space for online learning,” she says. “Having a routine is key to staying focused.”
Taking care of one’s well-being even while at home and setting up a specific spot just for classes really does help keep students on track, since it puts them in the correct mindset for being on-task. During these times, it is the closest one can get to being in a physical classroom and running on a consistent schedule.
As well as social health and organization, having enough motivation to stay on track is a key part of maintaining one’s academic success. For many people prior to the pandemic, seeking higher grades may have been enough motivation, but that has changed for many people in the present situation. Similarly, students may also find it hard to take care of themselves because of the unguided nature of learning at home, and may struggle to do as well as before as a result.
One way that this problem can be worked out is for students to find new sources of motivation, according to Mrs. Hirsch.
“Sometimes students need to reward themselves after they hand in a couple of assignments– maybe bake something or go for a walk with a friend around the block,” she says.
Similarly, having healthy habits will also improve one’s overall well-being and mental health. Self care is critical, according to Mrs. Laurenzano.
“Trying to take care of themselves, having a routine, eating properly [all of which is] not easy, but very crucial for current times,” she says.
Meditating, listening to music, or developing interests other than school can also serve as ways for students to take their minds off the stress of online learning and help to “refresh” their minds, according to Mrs. Jill Merkert.
“It’s a great time to pick up a new hobby or something new: an instrument, art, or something else cool that you’ve never had time to do previously,” she says.
Finally, taking breaks away from the computer also has many benefits to making one’s mind feel refreshed, as staying in front of a screen all day isn’t healthy or beneficial to one’s mood. Stepping away from the screen and finding time to get some physical activity in during the day can bring benefits to anyone, and not just athletes. For someone to have a healthy mind, it often means having a healthy body.
Lastly, students should remember that the guidance counselors are always available to assist them.
“The counselors are reaching out to all the students, but the ones that we’re reaching out to first were the ones that are struggling academically to find out what they thought was affecting them personally,” says Mrs. Merkert. “We’re trying to one by one figure out what the academic barrier that student is having in order to try to help guide them through them.”
The counselors encourage all students to share their suggestions on how to better help the school as a whole. It is important to remember that both the students and the staff are still adapting to changing and unpredictable situations, and mutual support within the community is vital so that everyone can help each other thrive.
The guidance counselors encourage students to reach out when needed as well as to utilize the resources found on the Schoology course for their respective grade level. Relevant and helpful information can be found in the “Updates” section of the course.
The entire Nanuet school community is hopeful in the face of current obstacles, and it can be confidently said that both the students and staff will work together to create new and effective solutions for everyone.