Moncton High's remoteness blamed for anxiety, depression, sense of not belonging
Student council co-presidents say mental health directly linked to being involved in after school activities
It's no secret that students who play on the school basketball team, or build sets for the drama production, or compete with the debate club, have a better sense of belonging than students who aren't involved in extracurricular activities.
Madeleine Platt and Alice Campbell say since Moncton High opened in its new location on the outskirts of the city in 2015, fewer and fewer students are taking part in after-school activities.
"A lot of people miss out on playing sports or doing drama because their parents just can't come and pick them up after school, said Platt who is in Grade 12.
"It's really sad actually that they can't do the things that they really want to do.
"Students don't feel like they belong in their school," added Campbell, also in Grade 12. "They don't feel like they have people they can hang out with."
I think that because people can't participate in activities, they don't really know how to find their people.- Alice Campbell, Grade 12 student
Principal Mike Belong says 99 per cent of his 1,200 students take the bus and don't have the option of staying after school for activities.
"Even though we have a beautiful school, it's just a little bit far," he said.
The new Moncton High School is about 10 kilometres from its original city-centre location on Church Street, where it was surrounded by its feeder schools: Sunny Brae, Edith Cavell and Lewisville.
Platt said homecoming pep rallies used to be huge "school spirit" events. Students could walk from the school to their football field, but that tradition is gone.
At the new school, the football field doesn't meet regulations, so students have to travel into the centre of the city to play at Rocky Stone Field in Centennial Park.
"That doesn't really work here because it costs, like, hundreds of dollars to get a school bus … it's changed the spirit here at Moncton High."
Anxiety, depression higher than national average
A recent school wellness survey shows the mental health of students is suffering and Belong believes that's related to a lack of "connectedness."
The survey suggests 34 per cent of Moncton High students have moderate to high levels of anxiety. The national average is 18 per cent.
One-third of the students at Moncton High reported moderate to high levels of depression. Thirty-three per cent of students surveyed are struggling, compared with the national average of 19 per cent.
To Campbell, the link between being involved in school activities and mental wellness is clear.
"I think that because people can't participate in [after-school] activities, they don't really know how to find their people," she said.
"They don't really know how to find a group of people that they belong with, and if they don't feel like they have people they belong with, they don't have a sense of belonging, and that can really deteriorate their mental health."
Platt believes everyone would be "all around more happy," if they could take part in more activities outside regular classes.
'This should be a huge priority'
Belong made a presentation to Moncton City Council earlier in March asking for Codiac Transpo to extend its service to Moncton High School in the early evenings so students would have more transportation options.
He would like to see a one-year pilot of the new public bus service.
"If you're just coming to school and you're just going to a classroom and that's all you get out of the day, that's not as fulfilling or making you more of a complete person," Belong said.
Campbell said offering the extended bus service after school would show young people in the city that they are important and valued.
"This should be a huge priority for [city councillors]," she said. "If they really want us to stay here, they need kids to like it and most kids … if they hate their high school experience nothing's going to make them want to stay."
Student council making efforts
In an effort to increase the opportunities for students to be involved, Moncton High has added a "connect block" to the school day three times a week.
During that time, students can choose to take part in a wide range of activities, including crib, darts and yoga.
Campbell and Platt, who are co-presidents of Moncton High's student council, are both involved in organizing activities for those blocks.
Campbell has organized a music group that is putting together a "bit of a musical show," while Platt is involved in a leadership group.
"It's made a huge difference so far," said Campbell. "There are fan clubs for Harry Potter for example, and you're meeting people you never would have met before because you didn't know they had the same interests as you."
City manager Marc Landry said on March 19 that he would take the request for extended bus service to staff, who will cost it out and report back to council.
In 2015, the City of Moncton said it couldn't afford the estimated $100,000 it would cost to provide bus service to Moncton High.