- Vermont high schoolers shared online school experiences during a town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
- Students also described the impact of the pandemic on their mental health.
- Sanders also asked for feedback on how lawmakers can help advocate for more mental health access and support.
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High schoolers in Vermont candidly recounted their challenges with online school and its impact on mental health during a virtual town hall with Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday.
The event was open to 1,000 participants and included a panel of high schoolers, who shared their experiences, and an opportunity for audience questions.
Many schools across the country pivoted to virtual or hybrid (some online some in person) instruction a year ago, when lockdowns were implemented to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
In Vermont, schools were asked to close from March 18 to April 6, and on March 26, the governor announced that in-person learning would be paused for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, and districts were asked to make plans for virtual learning.
Health and safety guidance was issued for reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year, and according to the state, there are currently different levels of in-person, hybrid, or remote learning happening across Vermont.
As Inside Higher Ed notes, remote learning and the stresses of the pandemic are impacting kids across the country.
During his town hall, Sanders asked students about what it was like to attend school virtually and the impact that it has had as they focus on higher education.
One student on the livestream described the college application process as “isolated” due to having to apply at home and without touring any universities or colleges.
“I was talking to a lot of my friends who are first-generation and trying to navigate that on their own is really, really difficult,” the student said. “I feel really fortunate that a lot of the quality of my education has been pretty good. I think I feel prepared, but I think it came at a pretty big cost of mental wellbeing.”
Another student said being told to stay away from others and social distance for health safety “took a toll on everybody.”
“For those of us who play sports, or are in clubs, or even going to work, it took a toll on everybody,” the student said. “Especially when we’re in school, the biggest part about being in school is having your classmates and friends with you, and being connected with your teacher, so you can have help right there.”
Another shared the impact the pandemic and a disrupted school year has had on those on the autism spectrum or those with ADHD.
Sanders answered a question from a student on what more young people can be doing to advocate for mental health, especially in the context of COVID-19, both in their communities and at the federal level.
“This country has for a long time been facing many challenges regarding mental health. We don’t have enough counselors, we don’t have enough psychologists, we don’t have enough psychiatrists,” Sanders said. “We don’t have enough psychiatrists who focus on children’s needs. That has been the fact the COVID pandemic has made a bad situation worse because of all the stress and anxiety that people are feeling.”
He mentioned the resources included in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress last week, noting that the legislation included “billions of dollars specifically for mental health — for community health centers who provide a mental health counseling, for the training of more psychologists and psychiatrists, etc.”
He also asked the students directly for feedback on how to better make mental health care accessible and gave them advice on how to make an impact on democracy — even if they are not old enough to vote yet.
“In terms of how you can make an impact, look, democracy is not all that complicated,” the Vermont senator continued. “And that is, if you and your friends go to a school board meeting and say, ‘Look, we go to school here at the high school, and these are our concerns,’ I suspect the school board will listen to you.”
“Start talking to your legislators, and they will listen to you as well,” he added. “It’s a small state, and I think elected officials are pretty responsive to the people who contact them.”