Politicians, school boards, parents and other adults have a lot to say about education in America. But what about students? The 2022 Student Journalism Challenge from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and XQ asked students to report on education stories where they live.
Entries from 36 states were evaluated by professional journalists, and the winning stories in the 2022 Student Journalism Challenge tell stories of student life, challenges and solutions in school communities and answer the question: What’s important to students across the country?
Sriya Tallapragada is a sophomore at The Pingry School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. For her winning entry, Tallapragada wrote the following reflection on student mental health in anticipation of the current school year.
Making back to school better than ever
September, to me, is forever remembered with a back-to-school mentality: shopping for school supplies, waiting for the bus, setting alarm clocks earlier, buckling down on schoolwork, meeting new friends and teachers and, of course, new opportunities. Back-to-school season has always been one of my favorite times because, after three months reserved for catching my breath, I finally get to fall back into a routine.
Of course, this sense of regularity hasn’t always been a constant in my education experience. I was in seventh grade when the coronavirus pandemic forced schools to shift into virtual learning, and I couldn’t come to in-person school until I was a freshman in high school. My first school day for eighth grade was spent at home, glued to Zoom calls, still reckoning with a world with rules and limits constantly changing.
“My first school day for eighth grade was spent at home, glued to Zoom calls, still reckoning with a world with rules and limits constantly changing.”
Remote learning changed how I approach my education, making it difficult to go back to school in person.
We are now more than two years removed from the moment COVID forced the world to pause, and while most schools have recovered, the same can’t be said for all students. A study by the CDC published in March reported that 40% of students nationwide felt hopeless or sad over the past year. Marginalized groups have suffered disproportionality in adverse behavioral health; according to The Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
While uncertainty about the future from the pandemic was a factor in the soaring rates of anxiety and depression in teenagers, it’s not the only cause. Many challenges contribute to the mental health crisis among students, including pressures to succeed, financial worries, social media and destructive perfectionism. While highly publicized cases like those of Chelsie Kryst and Katie Meyer shed light on the dangers of achievement culture, it is especially dangerous in education settings, where students may tie their self-worth with grades and test scores.
“While uncertainty about the future from the pandemic was a factor in the soaring rates of anxiety and depression in teenagers, it’s not the only cause. Many challenges contribute to the mental health crisis among students, including pressures to succeed, financial worries, social media and destructive perfectionism.“
To address this issue, communities must take steps to support students. Over the summer 2022, Governor Phil Murphy introduced the “Strengthening Youth Mental Health,” which addresses the relationship between mental health and academic growth of New Jersey students. This initiative is a good step toward ensuring the well-being of youth through academic support. Aside from public investment, communities must be more mindful of supporting young people. We must provide resources that promote healthy development and supportive environments to meet the social, emotional and behavioral needs of children and youth.
I’m going into the tenth grade, and the first day of school this year still has the same magic to me as it did when I was younger and I recognized that the opportunity for education was very much limitless. However, this year, taking care of my and others’ mental well-being will be a priority.
After all, everyone is fighting a silent battle, and being kind to one another is the best way to lift each other.
Read, watch, and listen to stories of other Student Journalism Challenge winners here.
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