Mental Health is a Two-Way Street

With the recent Facebook post regarding students’ declining mental health gaining significant traction, it is clear that our community must address the lack of enforcement of many of Stuyvesant’s academic policies to ensure a smoother, more successful second semester.

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By Yaqi Zeng

Winter recess and the conclusion of the first semester have allowed both the Editorial Board and the larger Stuyvesant student body to reflect on the remote learning experiences this past semester. We understand that as a community, both teachers and students are still trying to navigate this new virtual setting, and we appreciate teachers for their kindness and consideration for us students. Teachers’ determination and flexibility have allowed Stuyvesant’s virtual learning to progress at an accelerated rate, efforts that shouldn’t be understated. However, a minority of teachers have presented their students with a very real struggle throughout this remote period. With the recent Facebook post regarding students’ declining mental health gaining significant traction, it is clear that our community must address the lack of enforcement of many of Stuyvesant’s academic policies to ensure a smoother, more successful second semester.

Lack of policy enforcement is an issue that seeps into several regions of school life. These infractions can manifest themselves in various forms, such as assigning more work than the homework policy allows or expecting students to stay in class well after the period ends. Because students are only guaranteed a lunch period every other day, asking students to remain in class even a few minutes after the period has ended takes away valuable time that students, not teachers, are entitled to. Furthermore, when teachers assign more work than is allotted for their classes, students are stripped of time they could be spending on other tasks. With the overwhelming burden of Zoom fatigue, it is especially important that students find time to de-stress and enjoy outdoor activity at the end of the school day. But when teachers assign several hours of online work, this becomes impossible and, instead, students stay confined in their isolated workspaces for sustained periods of time. This behavior contributes to growing frustrations among students and the feeling that their time is not important—and thus, not respected.

While these infractions are often chalked up to the expectation that Stuyvesant students should be able to manage the pace of an accelerated curriculum and increased workload, that justification does not hold up. The ability to withstand unhealthy amounts of stress and work should not be viewed as a necessary characteristic of a “successful” Stuyvesant student. In fact, when teachers play the “you should be able to handle this workload because you are a Stuyvesant student” card and hold the efforts of a select group of high-achieving students as the standard level of work productivity, unsustainable work habits are normalized. In order to combat this harmful mindset, students and teachers alike must understand that Stuyvesant can be a rigorous institution without copious amounts of homework. Mental health and academic rigor are not mutually exclusive, and it is time our school environment reflects that.

Of course, the stress we have encountered in remote learning is no novelty; Stuyvesant was already stressful before quarantine, and issues with workload existed before remote learning. But given the toll that the pandemic has taken on many of us regardless of schoolwork, the state of our mental health has become far more pressing. Students have struggled with burnout, isolation, and mental instability, and we must take concrete steps to alleviate the issues exacerbated by remote learning.

First and foremost, administrators must hold teachers accountable, whether by proactively monitoring Google Classrooms to assess assigned workloads or responding effectively to student complaints. If students or administrators notice that teachers are consistently breaking these rules, conscious efforts should be made to inform teachers of their policy breaches and to encourage them to both alter and monitor their methods of assigning work. For example, assistant principals could mandate all teachers to organize and maintain an anonymous Google Form in which students can voice their concerns. The Spiral of Communication should also be amended to reflect this change: rather than concluding with a notification sent to teachers that they are not following the homework policy, there should be several steps that follow up with both students and teachers ensuring that an appropriate response is being undertaken to rectify such issues.

In addition, guidance counselors, like teachers, should hold office hours after school to more effectively allow students to convey their concerns or challenges to the administration. These sessions would allow students to check in with an adult at Stuyvesant, free of the pressure or anxiety that may come with confronting a teacher directly. Using Zoom breakout rooms or the waiting room would allow counselors to facilitate one-on-one discussions rather seamlessly, too.

Effecting tangible change in the school community is a two-way street. Many students, intimidated by the possibility of repercussions from their teachers, choose to remain silent and do their assigned work rather than speak up against clear violations. Instead, peers should work together to communicate their difficulties to teachers. Whether this is done by group e-mail, direct contact, or anonymous correspondence through a third party, it is imperative that students take initiative to end the cycle of compliance that occurs all too often when teachers do not follow regulations, as delineated by The Spiral of Communication. Moreover, students who are content with how this past semester has gone should be cognizant of the fact that their remote learning experience may differ from that of their peers. Remote learning has affected members of the Stuyvesant community to varying degrees, and it is important that we remain supportive and empathetic of one another.

Above all, it is important to remember that students, teachers, and administrators came to Stuyvesant for a reason: to be a part of a rigorous, fulfilling education. Creating the optimal remote learning environment is not an easy undertaking and requires the work of the entire Stuyvesant body. We, as students, will actively strive to put our best foot forward every day, and we ask that the faculty invests the same degree of effort into creating a more healthy learning environment for the school community.