Marshall County High School sophomore Jack Johnson had a chance to share his thoughts and experiences of returning to in-person instruction during a virtual meeting last month of the Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council.
The council, comprised of 28 high school students from across Kentucky, discussed various aspects of learning during a COVID-19-impacted 2020 school year, including non-traditional instruction (NTI), educational challenges through online or hybrid (in-person and online) learning, and mental health concerns.
Johnson touched on mental health during the virtual meeting, held Sept. 15, by saying that remaining connected to others during a socially distanced time is important.
“Being in a rural community, isolation is very common,” he said, recalling the meeting via text. “So we need to make sure to stay in touch with those who could be susceptible to this.”
Johnson asked Damien Sweeney, KDE program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling, about how to provide help to those dealing with mental health matters. Sweeney said school counselors should check with students individually and their families. If there are issues getting in touch with students consistently, they should perform well checks where local police check on a student or family to ensure their safety.
“One thing I’ve been extremely concerned about, even before COVID hit, is that so many of those school counselors weren’t able to get into classrooms because they were tasked with so many different things that had very little to do with mental health,” Sweeney was quoted in a KDE release as saying.
Sweeney said he hopes to see school counselors provide lessons to students so they can help normalize mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Johnson said he was pleased with the opportunity state education leaders took to listen to his and others’ concerns.
“It is always good to have the KDE listen to the problems we face way down here in western Kentucky,” he said.
And even though there have been positive coronavirus cases reported in the Marshall County School District, Johnson said students have been excited to be back in school; something he said he feels is not typical when returning from summer break.
“All of a sudden, school is an outlet — a place where we can all unify,” he said in the council meeting that was attended by Kentucky’s new Commissioner of Education Jason Glass and Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “That’s very important because we’ve been apart for so long and this has really given us a sense of togetherness.
“Kids are willing to put up with wearing that mask and doing certain things that are different to get that sense of normalcy that school provides us,” Johnson added.
This is Johnson’s first year on the Student Advisory Council.
Peyton Hall, a senior from Fleming County High School who also has returned to in-person instruction, echoed Johnson’s point.
“Students just want to be here in this building,” Hall was quoted in a KDE release about the meeting. “No one complains about wearing their masks and everyone wears it properly. Everyone is OK with staying six feet apart; we just want to be in the presence of other students and be in the learning in environment that we learn the best in.”
Student council members also raised issues with internet, Wi-Fi and connectivity related to virtual learning from home and Healthy at Sports guidance and enforcement.