This school year, students are grappling with usual concerns — understanding assignments, studying for standardized tests, preparing for the next stage after graduation — along with the weighty challenge of navigating online school during the coronavirus pandemic.
How can students get through this year and make it a success? The Seattle Times posed that question to experts and students in an Education Lab Live Q&A online last week.
The discussion featured Lizz Dexter-Mazza, a licensed psychologist who provides therapy to adolescents and young adults; Ellen Sklanka, a professional organizer; and two students, Abigail Brittle of Shorecrest High School and Ritika Khanal of Mountlake Terrace High School.
Here are some resources and tips the panelists shared during the event.
How to deal with stress and anxiety
Lizz: Practice mindfulness, specifically being aware when you recognize your emotions are running the show. When you’re in that place, practice doing just one thing in the moment. Focus on being right here, right now.
When we practice radical acceptance, the current reality allows us to move away from “shoulds.” I should be in school. I should be able to see my friends. I should be able to go to a restaurant. When we get stuck in those shoulds, it increases our suffering and our misery. When we radically accept the current reality and not the reality we want to be in, then we can move into effective problem-solving and action.
How to deal with procrastination
Rikita: Set yourself a goal, make yourself a schedule and stick to that schedule: I’m going to go to bed at this time. I’m going to do my homework during this time. And I’m going to set aside this much time to do my homework.
Abi: When you are stressed or when you’re inclined to put work off, there’s something wrong with the head space you’re in. Identifying that first is really important. There’s definitely days when I wake up or when I’m in the middle of class and I’m like, I can’t do this anymore. And then I look around and I make sure that my basic needs are covered and then I’ll feel a little bit better. And that might even just include drinking a glass of water, making a sandwich.
If schedules like that don’t really work for you, if it’s really hard for you to stick to that schedule as it is for me sometimes, I think of just setting a simple goal. For example, I’m going to work for the next 45 minutes and when those 45 minutes are up, I’m going to be done.
How to stay connected to friends and make new friends
Ritika: You’re not alone. There are so many people who are going through literally the exact same thing that you’re going through. Social media has been key, using it to communicate and send Snapchat videos. Sometimes just calling friends and using the technology..
Many high schools are continuing to hold clubs. Even though it’s really weird to not do it in person and it’s one more Zoom, people who have the same interests and working together toward a similar cause has really been helpful to stay connected.
Abi: Right now, I’m so grateful for apps like Snapchat, because I can send full two-minute videos to friends, of just me talking or walking around my room or washing my face or doing homework and I don’t have to be live and in-person with them.
How to deal with difficult family members
Ellen: Talk about what works well and what doesn’t, and define each person’s baseline of what they need to make this all work for them. It could be, “I need to not be interrupted while I’m in class during these times,” or “I really hated it when the dog came in and barked in the room during a lecture.”
Lizz: Have regular family meetings. Do it at a time when you can all get together and be highlighting what went well for you each day and what you want to change for the next day. It’s OK to say what’s working and not working. Not everything has to be great every day.
How to create a productive work environment
Ellen: Think about what you need to be comfortable, but not too comfortable. What makes you feel alert and up, while also having a space that is predictable for you. If you are set up at the dining-room table, but then have to clear everything out for dining time, then it’s more of an upheaval. Carve out a space for learning that you can leave and come back to.
How educators can better help students
Ellen: I would recommend that every teacher and administrator think every day: How did I connect today? How did I reach out to a student that hasn’t spoken on my Zoom class in a week? I’ve got a class of 20 students, and if I reach out to four a week, roughly one a day, I can write rotate through and I can really have connection time with each of them.
Lizz: One of the things teachers can do is move around just as if they were in the real classroom. Schools can provide every student with a virtual background, maybe with the school logo on it, so that it takes away one of the barriers for why students might not want to turn their screen on.
Ritika: We’re in a difficult time. It’s harder to stay focused. So when a student needs to turn in something late, be inclusive of that. Grace is the most important thing.
How parents can better help their students
Lizz: They have to validate their child’s experience that this is hard. There is a lot to be sad about during this time, especially your junior and senior years. If we can acknowledge and be sad and grieve the loss of what you thought it would be, and really allow ourselves to feel that and accept that, then we can find ways to have a great experience, given the reality of what is.
How students who don’t have adults present in their home can get help
Ritika: Any support is good support. Any human connection is good human connection. Most teachers are willing to talk. If you are struggling with something, or if you are not sure how to navigate some sort of life challenge, or you just need an adult to talk to, teachers are excellent resources.
Lizz: Every school has school counselors and school psychologists. They want to be there to talk to their students as well, especially the students who are struggling. They can’t always see that you’re struggling. So they’re going to ask you to push yourself a little bit to reach out to them so that they can be present for you.
How students can stay organized
Ellen: A paper journal that you use for calendaring, for task lists, for doodling, for writing your grocery list, just all the things that are currently living in your brain — once you offload those things into a place, you know that you’ll be able to find that information again.,
How to deal with the weight of the pandemic
Abi: I’ll be 18 in January and this last year was supposed to be the end of it all and the closure was just taken away. And so I definitely feel that sense of not having optimism. Connecting with people and knowing that high school isn’t everything, and you’re going to have more fun, you’re going to have more moments in your life, you’re going to make new friends in the future as an adult — that’s what I’m trying to remember.
Lizz: We’re on a roller coaster right now. There’s no, “I’m going to get prepared and it will be ok and it will stay that way.” Shifting that mindset has been really helpful for me.
Other resources students can use
Abi: Teen Link is really cool, It’s basically teens helping teens in a sort of helpline-type way. It’s anonymous and you can chat with other teens.