Los Angeles public school students commented that they had suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed a “non-negotiable” need for academic success: mental well-being.
Yet 1 in 3 students of color indicate they don’t have an adult at school with whom they feel comfortable enough to talk about how they feel, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) survey of middle and high school students shows their high priority difficulties and needs: access to technology, opportunities for tutoring, extra classes, and extracurricular activities.
The survey included input from 769 students and student focus and follow-up groups commissioned by a coalition called Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, under the leadership of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
About half of the students said they were concerned not only with their own mental health, but also with that of their parents, other family members, and friends, as well as being stressed about their physical health.
Among black students, 71% reported that getting sick at school would be a potential stressor; 60% of white students felt that way.
Latino students, by 10 percentage points, are more concerned than non-Latinos about their own physical health, the physical and mental health of their families, as well as the mental health of their friends. By a similar margin, Latino students are more concerned with getting good grades and caring for their parents, siblings, or other family members.
Survey results underscore the importance of listening to students as the district develops support systems for them, especially at a rare time when the district is relatively full of resources, said Norma Rodríguez, director of education programs and policies. of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
“Student opinion was critical before the pandemic, and it is even more important now,” Rodríguez said.
Evelyn Flores, who attended Mendez High School in Boyle Heights, spent her last academic year at the online school while living with two sisters and their parents in a one-bedroom apartment. The closed space and unstable internet connection, with two high school students, another sister online for her job, and her mother taking courses for her General Educational Development test, made learning difficult. Things got worse when both parents contracted COVID-19 and his father lost his job at the supermarket.
Flores and her sisters essentially lived and attended school in the living room, while her parents were quarantined in the bedroom. For a few days, he thought that his father would not be able to overcome the illness. The daughters learned to pay the bills and cook. Flores got a food service job on the Santa Monica Pier to help with finances, sometimes entering classes online while riding the subway.
At the same time, he was applying to college.
“I felt silly because I was learning how to apply for financial aid and about the application requirements,” she said. “I was a senior in high school and didn’t know how to apply to college. I didn’t have the resources I needed ”.
“I felt pretty bad,” he recalls. “I had the school and I had to manage all these things, prioritize my family. That made me anxious ”.
At the time, postponing college seemed like a good idea.
The survey indicated that only 43% of college bound juniors and seniors agreed or strongly agreed that they were adequately prepared for the fall semester.
Studies across the country have documented that remote learning students made less academic progress than in a typical year. And the learning gaps widened among black and Latino students from low-income families.
“COVID created a perfect storm of stress, anxiety and trauma for the children of our state,” said Sean Varner, a Riverside attorney and vice chairman of the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, which recently released a report on the students’ mental health.
Varner and other commissioners on Tuesday cited data suggesting mental health stress for youth in the state had worsened before the pandemic hit. In addition to increased isolation, the youth “struggled daily with anxiety for the safety of family members who are essential workers or were stressed by loss of parental income,” explained Varner. “And, tragically, many of them are dealing with the pain of losing loved ones as a result of COVID-19.”
Even before the pandemic, teen suicide and self-harm rates were on the rise, Little Hoover commissioners noted on their online forum. In California, mental health illnesses are the leading cause of hospitalization among young people, they reported.
And Los Angeles students made clear, in the survey and focus groups, that providing more support for mental well-being is “non-negotiable” for them and represents “a prerequisite for academic success,” according to the accompanying report. to the survey results.
Marco E. Joven Domínguez, who graduated in the spring from the Academy of Humanities of Social Justice in San Fernando, mentioned that he began suffering from debilitating migraines from long days on the computer doing courses and university applications. His father contracted COVID-19 while working as a janitor, then his mother fell ill. Young Domínguez managed the home while he and his younger brother continued to take classes online with an unstable Internet connection.
“It was a very lonely period,” he said. “I couldn’t give them a New Years hug. That loneliness had a huge impact on my mental health. My brother and I feel so alone, so distant from our friends and our extended family. I felt like I had no one to talk to about this experience. “
More than a third of the students in the United Way / CLASS survey reported having some non-school related responsibility. About 11% mentioned that they have a job outside of school. In addition, 13% added that they were responsible for caring for parents, grandparents or other adults, while 29% were responsible for younger siblings or relatives.
About half reported that these responsibilities created stress for them.
In addition, a quarter of the students indicated that they were at least a little concerned about meeting their basic needs, such as food, a place to live, and essential technology.
The survey was open to all LAUSD middle and high school students from June through the end of August 2021, shortly after school started. Participating students represented more than 100 campuses and local organizations.
It is feared that students will suffer potentially life-long setbacks due to school closings, but the survey also shows the stresses they face today, for which there is still the possibility to help.
“We need to treat this as the same [nivel de] emergency than when the pandemic started because the level of severity is the same, ”said Los Angeles school board president Kelly Gonez, who participated in an online information session about the survey.
That point of view was shared by Alicia Montgomery, executive director of the locally based Center for Powerful Public Schools.
“Whenever we want to empower people to commit, we do it by listening and really doing what they have asked to be done,” explained Montgomery.
Joven Domínguez noted that his brother, who is in the 11th grade, has had trouble adjusting to the resumption of face-to-face classes and is struggling to complete work on time and stay dedicated. He adds that he also feels that he is still recovering from social isolation and inadequate academic progress during the pandemic. But both he and Flores have made it to college, examples of what can happen when students find their own space of resilience. And both were active in outside nonprofit organizations that provided counseling.
Flores, whose immigrant parents never made it to high school, is a freshman at Cal State Los Angeles. Young Domínguez managed to turn in his applications on time and is the first in his family to attend college. He’s at Harvard University studying government and philosophy.
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