A Student’s Perspective on Wahlert’s Support for Social-Emotional Health
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 brought widespread disruption to students across the country. With the shift to virtual learning, as well as additional stress from social media, socio-political tensions and academic pressures, it’s no surprise that more high school students are struggling with mental health. To combat this trend, Holy Family teachers, administration and students are dedicating time and resources to promoting social-emotional well being.
“Our intellectual lives are not separate from our mental and emotional health,” said Ms. Barbara Ressler, English teacher at Wahlert Catholic High School. “We know emotion figures largely in learning. Learning is social. Last spring, I was heartened by the overall kindness and goodness of our school community as we navigated the challenges dealt us by the pandemic. We took care of each other, and I believe are better connected as a result.”
Ms. Ressler worked closely with her students over the spring and continues to keep each student’s individual needs and situation in mind when working with them. To help her students, Ms. Ressler was very empathetic, offering extensions and additional help to those who struggled.
Additionally, Holy Family administration was quick to recognize the need for personalized attention for students to cope with the shift to virtual learning. Though mentoring had already been established within the personalized learning model, it has been expanded to include all students at Wahlert (as well as grades 4–8). Now, each student has a trusted advisor with whom they can share academic or personal concerns.
“The goal of mentoring is to create a model of trust and sharing, and to check-in with students academically,” said Jim Kuhl, Wahlert Catholic theology teacher and mentor. “It has been a terrific way to connect more fully with students – socially, emotionally and academically – to support their success in school and life. It provides an opportunity to share concerns and life experiences, and I think it has had a positive impact on student well-being.”
The efforts to promote mental health and wellbeing are not limited to faculty and staff, however. Last year, Wahlert Junior Veronica McDonald started a mental health club called Yellow Umbrellas. The meetings are open to any high school students, and activities can vary from coloring to watching mental health educational presentations.
“It’s a club focused on mental health awareness and making sure that Wahlert students have somewhere to go if they’re feeling down,” McDonald said.
McDonald added that when she approached the guidance counselors and Principal Meyers about the club’s aim and purpose, they were extremely supportive. “Mr. Meyers immediately said that we need something like that in the Wahlert community,” she said. “Administration was very receptive.”
Yellow Umbrellas staff advisor and Wahlert Catholic Science Teacher Peter Scott recognizes its impact. “The goal of the club is just to relax and chill out and do some self-care after a long day at school,” he said. “Since the pandemic, economic crisis, and racial injustice issues, mental health has been declining. We’re a small group, but even if one person comes and wants to learn about mental health or self-care techniques, then that’s what this club is there for.”
In addition to the support provided by teachers and students, the Wahlert guidance office provides students with access to a Hillcrest counselor through video conferencing and offers coping strategies and office hours during Eagle Time, a flexible period for students. The guidance office advises all students to reach out if they’re struggling, regardless of physical location.
“Many things are uncertain as most people have never lived through something like COVID-19. Many people have had their routines disrupted, said Katie Lenart, Wahlert Catholic counselor. “We want to make sure that all students have a connection in the building that they can rely on to help them in various ways for the four years that they are here. We are always available in various ways for students.”
Catherine Curtiss is a senior at Wahlert High School. She’s involved in cross country, the treasurer for NHS, and is president for STOP and Creative Writing Club. Catherine is also the fall 2020 senior intern for the Holy Family Enrollment and Advancement offices.