“Eat a Meal in Silence”: How Homeroom’s Mental Health Activities Fail To Address Student Stress

The Spectator delves into how homeroom’s mental health activities fail to address student stress.

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The extended homerooms at Stuyvesant take up 20 minutes between the third and fourth periods. Usually, homerooms are intended to distribute materials such as Metrocards, BooGrams, report cards, and school surveys. Other times, they are used for homeroom bonding activities. For freshmen, homeroom is a time to ask Big Sibs for advice, but for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, these 20 minutes are filled with childish mental health activities that minimize the severe stress they face on a daily basis without providing feasible solutions. While these activities do indicate that the administration recognizes the mental health crisis at Stuyvesant, they often feel hastily thrown together and are not age-appropriate. Despite well-founded intentions, the homeroom experience has become disconnected from its original goals.

Stuyvesant is notorious for its competitive, stressful culture. While much of this is undoubtedly perpetuated by the student body itself, there is no question that students’ daily lives are filled with stressors: packed schedules, challenging courses, and limited sleep. However, homerooms provide little to no benefit for deteriorating mental health. Rather than providing a space for students to relieve the pressures placed on them, the tone-deaf activities that claim to “target what the student body needs” ignore what we actually require: time to decompress. Finding leisure time away from cramming, doing homework, and studying is a difficult task; homeroom is a prime opportunity to give students a designated time to slow down. The “targeted” homeroom activities circumvent students’ poor mental health by providing advice that fails to recognize the complexity of an issue deeply ingrained in the school’s culture. 

Homeroom can be an incredibly useful time for freshmen to bond with their Big Sibs, but for sophomores and upperclassmen, extended homerooms serve a limited purpose. Many of the activities are geared toward freshmen, focusing on integrating them into the school community; the administration fails to modify these activities for other grades. The most recent example of this involved a worksheet centered around mental health, undeniably one of the largest concerns facing the student body. The way the administration communicated their sentiments, however, was tone-deaf; the exercise suggested that stressed-out individuals “meander around town,” “rest your legs up on a wall,” “paint on a surface other than paper,” “eat a meal in silence,” or “move twice as slowly,” completely failing to acknowledge the root of all these stressors. In the face of all the stress Stuyvesant students face, these activities further widened the gap between students and the guidance office. These trivial and sometimes illogical suggestions minimize the very real worries and pressures students face. Homeroom has the potential to be a beneficial time for students, but the current approach only draws more attention to Stuyvesant’s ongoing struggle to adequately address mental health. 

The administration should tailor homeroom activities to each grade. Freshmen should still be allotted time with their Big Sibs, but Big Sibs should be briefed via e-mail beforehand with talking points and guidelines to maximize the time provided. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are not part of the Big Sib program should have discretion over how they use the homeroom period. Instead of using homeroom to suggest strategies for taking care of mental health, the administration should use it as a period to actually implement these strategies. At a school as large as Stuyvesant, it is impossible to address individual concerns by proposing generic collective solutions. Students should be allowed to use the time in whatever way will be most helpful to them—free from guidance—whether that be by taking a few minutes to close their eyes, relax, and listen to music; play a stress-relieving videogame; or socialize with friends. Just as conference day schedules occur every two weeks, it would be helpful for extended homeroom schedules to occur at regular intervals, providing students with predictability and a break to look forward to. We acknowledge the administration’s efforts, but we hope that by expressing what we really need, we can work together to ease students’ pre-existing burdens.