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Opinion Schools

Op-Ed: Expression and Connections are What Students Need this Summer

Watkinson Head of School Teri Schrader. Courtesy photo

Teri Schrader, head of school at Watkinson School, reflects on what students really needs coming out of the pandemic.

By Teri Schrader

Summer. The favorite respite of every student and teacher since … well, forever.

The bonds formed by teachers and students over the course of the last two years have been extraordinary and well-documented. Teachers made Herculean efforts to reach and engage students during extended periods of virtual schooling, as students were literally leaning into their computer screens to feel and stay connected to their peers and their teachers.

As the period of endemic continues, those working with young people, particularly educators,  are giving great care and attention to their needs. The March 2022 report from the World Health Organization reported a global increase of 25% in anxiety and depression, and that young people are among the hardest hit. The data corroborates what we see around us in our schools.

In this same timeframe, our young people cannot help but be inundated by the realities of our world. Images of war, the economy, the dire consequences of climate change, and a surge in violence in schools and in the places once considered safe are all around. Our students of all ages are taking it all in.

So what now? How do we as the adults in their lives support and encourage our young people? When do we shelter? How do we temper the seemingly endless flow of all that’s difficult, and provide some lightness and find joy as they grow up?

My encouragement to parents is to help the young people in your lives find lots of ways and places to express themselves. That might take the shape of a conversation, but it also might come out on a stage, an athletic field, in a journal, through an interaction with a friend, coach,or grandparent. It might come through the book they choose to read, the reel they re-post on their Instagram story, or in ways we cannot imagine, but which are inspired by their own sense of putting something out there.

If we can pay attention and be watchful for what they are expressing, and ask questions rather than assuming we know how our children are feeling or what meaning they are making of their world, we may all find a kind of peace that seems in such short supply right now. We cannot know everything our young people are thinking every moment of the day, just as we would not necessarily know how to report on our own thoughts and feelings, but if we are quiet, steadfast, loving, patient, and occasionally courageous enough to listen to them fully, we might just discover a clearer picture of what is needed and how to love, guide, and be with them as we all move forward.

Here is to the gift of time that summer affords. All of us at Watkinson hope it is a time of unabashed expression for and connection with the young people we are lucky to have in our lives.

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