Students open up about mental health, online learning woes


Andrea Piacquadio

Students at Harding Charter Prep and across the U.S. are struggling with online learning in the middle of a global pandemic.

Emily Vasquez

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough on its own, students across the country now face another problem: faltering mental health. 

In March, spring break began early for the HCP students and many others across the nation. Kids transitioned from traditional in-class learning to taking their AP exams online for the very first time. As of now, HCP students have still yet to fully come to campus for class. 

The issue with online learning is students not getting to socialize with anyone except those who live in their immediate household. Building social skills, such as collaboration, with peers is an integral part of a student’s education. Without the ability to socialize, teens often start to feel depressed, anxious, or unmotivated. Add to that the increased amount of screen time, students really begin to struggle. 

“School feels so optional when it isn’t,” said a junior who wished to remain anonymous. 

Junior and senior counselor Katherine Ferguson said she has seen a downturn in the number of students who come to see her for help during the year. 

“When we are in-person, students will come to me to talk, but they don’t seem to be reaching out as much in this virtual reality, Ferguson said. 

With the distance and pressure combined, students are limited to what they can do. Ferguson said she believes it is the isolation and lack of communication that is affecting students as well as teachers. 

“They may be working in their bedrooms or another enclosed space so that their classes don’t interfere with their siblings’ school or parents’ work, she said. “Human beings are social by nature.” 

There are ways to make that social connection using the same technology students and teachers use for their classes, Ferguson continued. 

“I have pulled a student from a class to speak with them virtually when a teacher was particularly concerned about them, she said. “Unlike a class, in a one-on-one call, the screen is not a sea of faces. We are able to speak privately.” 

Another junior, Sally*, is feeling lost without being able to be in the classroom. 

“Not only is it difficult to focus without the physical school environment but human interaction is one of my main motivators to come to school, they said. “I genuinely haven’t been this unmotivated to do things nor so tired all the time in about three years, Sally explained.

Previously, this student attended therapy but had felt like they were getting better mentally and not having to have as many sessions. When the pandemic started, they lost progress. 

“And it feels like I’m back to square one, she said. “And yes, there were steps back, but this was a big step back, learning to deal with this new normal.’” 

Sally had learned some things that could help other students, such as not doing class in bed. 

 “Having separate places to do tasks really helps,” they said. “For example, don’t do work in your bed or you’ll associate bed with high brain functioning time and will have a harder time falling asleep.”  

Freshman and sophomore counselor Carlissa Baker has a different perspective on virtual learning. 

“It’s pretty much the same,” she said. Actually, it’s more convenient to meet and schedule calls, visits, and meetings.” 

Baker also said she sees common problems in students when having to learn virtually, such as distractions from home and the lack of physical-social interaction to help balance students.  

I think not being able to have a choice and the monotonous life is stressful,” she said. 

Baker’s advice to students who are going through hard times in adapting to this new normal involves them learning new skills and methods of coping. 

“I encourage them, give them advice on how to use coping skills, set boundaries, prioritize so they won’t feel consumed by the school, she said. “advise them with cognitive-behavioral techniques to help with anxiety, stress, and low motivation.” 

Baker also reaches out sporadically to introduce herself and ask them how they are handling school, their work, and their home life. 

The senior class is arguably taking the biggest hit with the pandemic, missing out on precious memorable eventsHaving to apply to colleges and scholarships just adds to the stress of dealing with the effects of a prolonged pandemic. 

One senior, Becky, said they know others are struggling along with them. 

“I often find myself contemplating doing my schoolwork, she says. “It’s mentally draining, it’s hard to stay concentrated and actually engaged as to what’s happening. 

On top of all of this, many students hold after-school jobs, adding to the load. In many cases, it is an obligation for some students to start working at a young age for family purposes. 

I work five days a week,” Becky said. At times it can be extremely stressful balancing work and school, but I know I have to do it in order to grow up.” 

The senior said their teachers have been helpful by being understanding of the increased stress on students. 

“I am stressed,” the senior said. “The school load this year is very overwhelming, but my teachers are very understanding and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”  

One thing for students to keep in mind is pandemics are temporary. 

Always remember, your feelings right now are valid, it’s okay not to be motivated. You just have to push through and focus on little wins. This won’t last forever, Sally said. 


You aren’t alone – if you are struggling and want to reach out to the HCP counseling office, contact them at: 

Kate Ferguson [email protected] 

Carlissa Baker [email protected] 

HCP teachers are also available through Microsoft Teams to talk. 

To learn more about what you can be doing during this pandemic to improve your mental health, click here. 

If you ever need to talk and get something off your chest, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

– National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  (800)-273-8255 

*Student names have been changed to protect their identity