Coronavirus snuck in and turned everyone’s lives upside down. Routines were disrupted, inequalities became even harder to ignore and there’s a huge elephant in the room that needs to be shown the door immediately. As in, before the pandemic ends.
CPS high schools need to prioritize caring for their students’ mental health the right way.
The Chicago Tribune reported that students depend on schools for a lot more than education. Meals, internet access, positive interactions and of course… mental health counseling. With the pandemic creeping in and snatching all of that away, teachers have turned to virtual counseling sessions to help students cope; but how effective is it compared to in-school counseling?
“Our counselors have been emailing us more frequently. They tell us if we or our parents need to talk about anything like personal, financial or school-related things, to come talk to them. I feel like this is better than nothing, but it’s a lot of pressure on them [the counselors] too. So, they may not be doing the best job that they possibly can,” explained Cierra Lemott, True Star writer and senior at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep.
Lemott’s honesty made me even more curious about what mental health services in CPS high schools were like before COVID-19 hit. She continued, “It’s kind of frustrating sometimes because the counselors are so busy. There are like 5 or 6 counselors for 1,000 students. If I’m really going through it and need to talk right now, I can’t. They have too many responsibilities.”
The ugly truth is that coronavirus has cost people their lives, jobs, psychological wellness and more. When CPS high schoolers are able to return to the classroom, administrators need to have real and helpful mental health practices ready for all students. This doesn’t include guidance counselors playing the role of licensed therapists either. Maybe high schools in Philly are a good example. Their students are offered actual meditation classes that teach mindfulness, natural stress relief, breathing techniques and inner peace.
Lemott said it best with her advice to CPS. “More counselors and therapists need to be available to students. More people will want to talk about the problems they faced during the pandemic. That’s not possible without extra resources.”
By Marilyn Koonce, Northern Illinois University Alumna