School closing made me realise that I am not as strong as I thought I was. I actually thought that it would have been easier because being at home I would have had fewer distractions. Instead, it’s sometimes like I’m just locked away in my thoughts in this dark space.
I really found out that I struggled with anxiety during this pandemic because often when I’m supposed to be on time for class, I’m late and my schedule is all over the place. So I had to create a structure to even make it through each day the way that I’m supposed to, the way I would when I was at school.
While it has been a challenge, I know I still have a duty to uphold. I always find myself pulling on the “why” when times get harder than usual. The reason I do this is to ensure that every student not only has a voice but a powerful one – with meaning. Advocacy has never been about me or how I am feeling, it’s always about how all students feel and ensuring they get the intentional representation they deserve.
Students’ mental health challenges
Right now we are supposed to be in the back-to-school period, and many students have expressed that they really don’t even feel like they’re going back to school because at this time, you’d be sorting out your book lists and all of that good stuff. And they’re not doing that. They have been having a very hard time with mental health and they’re just so demotivated to continue.
For me, I didn’t know that the company of just having someone simply walk down a hallway with me and speaking to someone else, having those mixture of personalities, I realised that that was really where my happy place was – despite all of the challenges that I would have faced at school. Being at home was definitely not it for me.
I feel as if we’re going to have to find a way to adapt to this and we have lost a lot of time during this pandemic. But in the long term I do see us adapting a bit better than we are right now, and I do feel as if many things are going to change. The way of life is going to change completely. We’re going to look back and be like, ‘Whoa, it’s a whole new revolution that we just experienced and it just went by right at the time of what would be the peak area of our lives!’
A back-to-school like no other
School was my escape but it’s an even bigger deal for other students. Within their home lives they are experiencing abuse, they’re experiencing frustration from their parents and from the persons around them. It’s definitely not easy for most of these students who have spoken with me, and with the other struggles like internet access at home.
Going to school for them was so important and it was taken from them. On a scale of one to 10 in terms of the damage that would have occurred with mental health during COVID-19, I would say it’s a solid 8.5.
As we enter this new school year, my number one hope is that all students across the island will be given the opportunity to receive quality education no matter their circumstances. I know that there are many things being put in place for us as students to effectively tackle this year and I expect for all promises made to be followed through with. I wish the absolute best for all students and I urge all students to make the best of this year, keep an open mind and soar to great heights.
Ree-Anna, aged 17, is a final year student at Kingston’s Immaculate Conception High School and a spokesperson for the National Secondary Students’ Council, defending the rights of students in the national media. She is also a member of UNICEF’s U-Report Youth Council. This is part one in a series of blogs by NSSC members sharing their experiences during this pandemic.