How Franklin High School’s Student Support system is Adapting to Distance Learning

“Used to” has become a common phrase that we say. Used to—when everything was normal. The usual mundane hum of the classroom, morningtime before everyone had arrived yet, bumping shoulders in the hallways, bathroom breaks and lunch in the cafeteria, or even just wasting time with friends in the halls. It’s all become a distant memory that we associate with the past, that we’ve been forced to move away from. “I loved to watch you guys come in. I kinda liked to see people just sleepily coming into the commons and just hanging out and talking to everybody, and I liked seeing my colleagues in the morning, communicating with them about the day ahead,” says Maleka Allen, a counselor at Franklin. 

When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in 2020, there came many changes that affected nearly everyone. From the closing of restaurants and businesses to the closing of schools and in-person therapy, the switch from real life to online has impacted not only many people’s economic situations but their mental health as well. Franklin High School and the students attending have had to adapt quickly. Many schools, including Franklin, have always been a great resource for teens suffering with mental health and dealing with home issues. With the recent switch to distance learning, the staff have been forced, rather quickly, to keep up and adapt to the new change, and struggle to continue to support its students. 

A 2020 study by Mission Harbor of about 1,500 teenagers found that “7 out of 10 kids reported that they were struggling with their mental health in some way. Over 50% of the teens said they struggled with anxiety, 43% dealt with depression, and 45% had felt more stress than usual.” Although some students may regard in-person school as a stressful atmosphere, anxiety rates actually increased since the switch to online school in March. This is most likely partially due to the current state of the world; with not only the pandemic, but also the wildfires, escalating political tension, and the upcoming election. “With everything going on in the world right now, it can be really hard to focus on school. Sometimes all the assignments and grades for online school just add to the load of anxiety that I’m already feeling from the world’s current predicament,” says Shannon Doyle (11), a student at Franklin. Aside from this, depression rates are going up for both adults and teens. “Being at home a lot alone is messing with my head,” says Yael Rosenham (11). 

Without the same in-person connection that students had in school, it is difficult for teachers and staff to know whether or not a student is suffering or needs help. “There used to be a really natural built-in consultation in our work, and unfortunately right now, that’s much more interrupted,” says Deborah Dombrowski, one of  Franklin’s school psychologists. “Everything has to be much more deliberate.” Right now, the Franklin staff has to work as a team in order to make sure everyone is safe and doing well. They are taking measures, such as hiring a new social worker, orchestrating mental health help presentations in freshman classes, and reaching out to individual students via email or Remind if they haven’t been in class for a few days. “We technically have more resources, but it is definitely hard to reach people,” says Dombrowski.  

As per usual, other factors must be considered as well. Megan Moyer, another psychologist at Franklin says, “The biggest challenge for me has been reaching out to students via Remind, because they always have the choice not to respond, so we can’t always give them the help they need.” She also states that it can be difficult to contact students when there is a language barrier. 

Some students don’t have access to the same technology as others, which, as Maleka Allen states, is the piece she worries about the most. “I have to do everything ahead of time so that I can take the time to complete the multiple steps it takes to get a hold of them,” she says. Sometimes it takes a whole team of people to reach one student. Counselors reach out to coaches and teachers, and anyone who could reach these students in a more efficient way than emailing. “I will say it has been challenging, but I’m really relying on partnerships and teamwork. Whether it be Step Up, SUN, our student coaches, or vice principals,” Allen elaborates, “all of us have a different angle or way of connecting with our students that way.”

Teachers are the first step in reaching out to students. They help to bring awareness to any issues a student may have, since they spend the most time with students. Pam Garrett teaches freshman English and CCE, and the Creative Writing elective. With the academies still happening in freshman classes, it’s easy for her to keep checking in on her students with help from other freshman teachers. From there, she likes to contact students via email or Remind. “I think the biggest thing I am trying to do is giving kids space and saying, you know what? It’s okay that you’re feeling this way, and I want to honor that and give you a break on homework, give you some time,” Garrett says. Many teachers also incorporate mental health check ups into their class routine; that way students have a way of reaching out even if they don’t feel comfortable doing so over email. 

Even with all of the measures taken to help teens in this difficult period of time, there are still going to be people left behind. It is important to check in with your teachers and counselors if you need help, make sure your friends are doing okay, and even check in with yourself. You can find the Crisis Line (03-988-4888) on every student ID, and more resources can be found on Mental Health & Community Resources. Although it can be difficult, Franklin High School wants to be able to support you, even if challenges come up. 

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