October 26, 2021

Students feeling stressed

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Melissa Brown, the school psychologist at Homer Junior High School, works in her office Tuesday. While students across America have reported more stress during the COVID-19 pandemic, greater Cortland area students have shown mixed results, depending on how their districts operate.

When schools like Homer Junior High School started using remote learning last year as the pandemic took a hold of the country, students were required to become more independent, said school psychologist Melissa Brown.

That “added a level of stress they (junior high students) haven’t really had before,” she said Tuesday.

As many students have switched to online learning and lost personal connections, student stress has increased nationwide, according to news media reports.

In a poll of 10,000 U.S. high school students by NBC News and Challenge Success, 56% of students said they dealt with more stress during the pandemic. Further, “84% of remote students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments, compared to 82% of students who were in the classroom on some days and 78% of students who were in the classroom full time,” the poll found.

The results in Cortland County, though, have been mixed.

At Homer Junior High School, Brown said that having a hybrid style of learning — where some students are in class some days of the week and others on the alternate days of the week — has created mixed results.

When the school originally went remote, she said she thought all students would become more stressed and their school work would suffer.

“But having that virtual option has helped in some cases” in allowing for students to adapt to learning in more fluid ways, she said.

For the students who are more stressed, Brown said it is in part from students not having faced anything like the pandemic before.

Brown said students who have been learning remotely can, though not always do, just log off once class is finished even if they don’t understand the coursework. This can hinder students from fully understanding the subject, which is more likely with remote learners than with students learning in person. In-person students are more or less forced to interact with their teachers, which Brown said can be a benefit for the students’ understanding.

“It’s easier for students to just disconnect, literally and figuratively this year,” she said.

Brown said teachers who have noticed students not attending classes virtually have contacted the students and their families to make sure they are doing all right. Brown also meets students who need support for stress.

The students, though, have been more resilient than expected, she said.

Not all school districts in Cortland County face the same issues, though. McGraw Central School District students have had in-person learning since the start of the school year, Superintendent Melinda McCool said. While students were stressed at the beginning of the school year, reintroducing sports, extracurricular activities and clubs has helped.

“We began the school year off with many unknowns,” McCool said. “By following all hygiene and cleaning etiquette with complete confidence, we have been able to slowly introduce more activities and ease into normalcy.”

The district also has added another counselor this year and has increased their time as support tools, said McGraw Elementary Principal Susan Prince.

“We’re just really focusing on the students’ mental health and trying to help them through these difficult times,” she said.