Teens offer suggestions to cope with COVID isolation, struggles with mental health
High school students says they are experiencing disengagement with online learning
Sophia Young does big art projects for school on the floor of her home.
Normally, she'd do it at school. But school in Regina moved to online learning in mid-March. She babysits some local kids, and tries to keep their cute but sticky kid fingers off her project.
"It's important to care for other people in our world and in our community, and I've seen how much good it does when people do care," Young said.
Now that schools in Regina have moved to online learning until at least April 26 due to concerns over coronavirus variants, the isolation and disengagement continue for many students.
Young, a 16-year-old Miller Comprehensive High School student, watches the kids for free. The children's moms are essential workers without child care, and Young said she loves watching the children.
She tries to be grateful and connected to the community at a time where it is hard to meet friends in person.
"When you're by yourself, it's really easy to fall into negative self-talk," she said. The isolation of COVID magnifies her struggles with thoughts of suicide.
She has called 811 in the midst of a mental health crisis. She has called Kids Help Phone — and notes they have a text line that's useful as well.
"You need someone to talk you out of it. But you don't want to talk to someone close to you. It's easier with some professional internet stranger," said Young, who offered advice to others facing mental health crises.
"You're loved a lot more than you think. There's a lot of people out there who love you so much."
Young said she has nothing but admiration for teachers trying to deliver an education in strange circumstances. She does her best to stay focused and not get distracted. She sets an alarm for everything.
"I'm learning to have that kind of sense of independence and how to organize my life," she said.
Young has noticed many others struggling and encourages fellow students to try to find a sense of purpose. She likes to keep busy in several different school clubs.
She also has a message for parents struggling to help their kids with online learning. She said even though formal education is stalled, parents can teach kids whatever they know best, such as a trade or gardening.
Life in lockdown
Midterms are tough at the best of times. But for Luther College High School Grade 12 student Shannon Sherk, her latest midterms were not only online, but also while she was in isolation at home.
She said staying mostly in her room for days on end was tough. When the weather turned snowy in April, it just compounded the gloom, she said.
"I think it pushes people to the extremes."
Yet, she says, she has been luckier than most this year. She takes part in an array of clubs and activities to bring fun into her routine. She loves Cirque du Soleil and has been doing aerial hoop for a couple of years. She said she is so thankful she was able to keep up with the creativity and athleticism of that art, a pastime where you're naturally socially distanced.
One thing she missed out on: "Not being able to play my last season of soccer has been a bummer."
She said students each deal with the difficult times in their own ways. Some stay positive. Some don't.
"Some students have become nihilistic about it — like nothing really matters," she said.
Sherk is watching the COVID numbers in Regina and said it is frustrating for students to see cases rise. She said she would love to be at school for the last two months of her senior year, but she does not know how likely that will be.
"With the rate [of infections], it is a balance between getting your hopes up but not living in dread the entire time."
Sherk said many of the Grade 12 students are still excited about graduating, even though they know festivities might look different.
Online learning tough for trades classes
Jaden De Gagne wants to get back to school as soon as possible.
"Not too much real learning has gone on," said De Gagne, a Grade 10 student at Miller Comprehensive.
He's frustrated trying to learn welding online. He said it's not the kind of thing you can just read about; you have to do it. In lockdown, he said, the school's state-of-the-art welding area is going to waste.
He said he's lucky his family has a welder at home. He and his dad welded together a trailer over this past year.
"I took it on my own initiative to do a few more projects and try to step up and learn new skills," he said.
He said he always seems to have a bit of extra energy to tap on things and find a beat, so he has also been focusing on playing the drums this year.
De Gagne said he normally loves seeing his friends and going on adventures. But now, it is hard to keep in touch. Online video and game chats just are not the same.
"I feel like there's less laughter and less joy about that whole form of communication," he said. He can't wait to get back face to face with his friends and his teachers.
"I would like to get back to class. I think that we need to get the fear out of the school system. We're making people not [want] to get an education. Education is supposed to be safe and fun and interesting."
If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there.
For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.
You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566, the Regina Mobile Crisis Services suicide line at 306-525-5333, or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.