RM fails to support students struggling with mental health


Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Domorad

Students struggle with the impacts from transitioning back to in-person school after a year and a half of online school

Livia Venditti , Opinion Writer

There is a growing crisis in America: the mental health pandemic. The back-to-school season is always full of nerves but coming back to in-person school after over a year of virtual learning has contained a myriad of new challenges. From intensive workloads to adapting to the new norms of in-person school, there is a pattern across the country of rising mental health issues for youth, teens and young adults. Richard Montgomery students are no exception to this trend, but steps are already being taken to help. 

Stressors such as the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19 or fear of contracting the virus can impair a student’s confidence in returning to school. The new COVID-19 procedures also force students to meet new people and interact whilst under masks, hindering verbal communication as well as the ability to read body language and emotions. “It was a big transition for sure from online to in-person,” sophomore Daniel Suh said.

Virtual schooling allowed for time to complete assignments, in which many students excelled and may therefore be nervous to return to in-person tests and work. “So many students have reported and continue to report that they are tired, overwhelmed and exhausted,” counselor Brigid McKelvey said. Alternatively, for some students, virtual school was difficult to engage with, and they feel as if they missed a year of learning. 

Some of the most reported struggles of students have been the physical and mental drain of a full school day, frustration over low grades and inability to focus. “The single biggest change so far seems to be a return to the physical and cognitive demands of learning in class in a school building 7 hours a day, 5 days a week,” Ms. McKelvey said. These stem directly from being accustomed to the comforts of virtual learning as well as the difficulty to fully engage with virtual class. 

Many also felt the loss of community support that was unavailable during quarantine. The detachment from friends and difficulty of making new friendships over Zoom can make students nervous about returning without seeing their classmates for over a year; or for some, the first time. Virtual schooling lacked the opportunity to create personal connections with both teachers and classmates, which can be vital for making students feel comfortable in a class. The disconnection from social networks and friends can be nerve-wracking, especially for students new to high school. “It’s been odd since this is, I guess, my first actual year of high school,” sophomore Dylan Weng said.

Students are not alone in being anxious, overwhelmed and stressed, which is why initiatives like Rocket Refresh have set out to support students and provide time to catch up on work. But although a good start, its execution has not been as successful as planned. Weng said, “I hate Rocket Refresh. I feel like it pushes tests to certain days because you can’t do any tests on Wednesday.” 

Some other examples of resources offered to students of RM are the ongoing academic support offered by teachers to help students regain lost skills and the school-wide Wellness Committee that overlooks the overall wellness of the student body. “In each department and across our leadership team we are constantly looking at how to put the student experience first in our planning,” Ms. McKelvey said. There are also student-led opportunities to discuss mental health such as the RM Mind Matters club which will partner with the Counseling office to run a series of Mental Health Awareness activities from Nov. 8-13.  

Although life has slowly begun to return to normal, the impact of this pandemic will be felt long after quarantine. RM is growing and adapting as a community, making student mental health a priority now more than ever before. However, there is a lot of work to be done not just at Richard Montgomery but in MCPS, Maryland and schools across the country.