Our Springtide Ambassadors on Mental Health at Schools

 In Mental Health, Voices of Young People

We asked our Springtide Ambassadors, a group of young people who meet monthly to discuss Springtide data and themes, to contribute a piece of writing for our report, Mental Health & Gen Z: What Educators Need to Know which is part of our Springtide Series on Mental Health.  Here, they reflect on the concepts of connection, expectation, and purpose at school.    

This contribution was edited by Springtide Ambassador Daniel.

CONNECTION . . . from Blake, Abby, and Lauren  

A lack of a genuine connection between students, teachers, and administrators truly affects the well-being of the student body. Understandably, schools have to focus on curriculum development and setting up students for success on things like standardized tests. But this focus gives us the impression that our worth at school is contingent on achievement. And because funding is contingent on our achievement, it can feel really transactional—the opposite of connection.  

Our sense is that in many school environments, the staff and administration promote that they “care” about students and their mental health. Our schools have resources for teens to use in situations when mental-health issues arise, but creating an open, proactive environment supportive of students’ mental health has to be the goal.  

Educators need to know how crucial it is to empathize with students and to really connect with us on more than the schoolwork. As students, we appreciate when we can confide in teachers when we’re struggling or behind. It’s not just that we need less pressure from school sometimes. It’s that we need more grace, more understanding, from those we’re connected to at school too.  

EXPECTATION . . . from Grace, Peyton, and Eva  

“What are you gonna be when you grow up?” “Make sure your grades are perfect.” “Make sure you’re doing every club and sport that you can.” We hear these narratives and expectations regularly. By the age of 14, we feel pressured to know what career path we will take, to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, and to excel academically, all while making sure to have fun since we’re still young. Schools define success by slim margins of intelligence and accomplishment. Our self-worth falls into that same slim margin of what’s acceptable.  

A student could get five As and one B, and, whether intentional or not, it seems the one slightly lower grade gets all the attention. Schools don’t need to add to the pressure students already put on themselves about what it means to succeed. Our mental health is at an all-time low. We need help to feel better. We don’t need a conversation about why we got a B instead of an A.  

It’s almost like a “workaholic” expectation has entered our schooling system. Young people feel shame when taking breaks unless in a crisis. But we don’t want to have to hit rock bottom to take a break and a deep breath.  

PURPOSE . . . from Sophie, Sofia, and Acadia  

Most high school students are never encouraged to pursue anything that isn’t directly related to college ambitions. We are expected to do clubs, sports, AP classes, college classes, and work, all so that we can get into a good college. But what is the purpose of all this? It seems that our understanding of our purpose in life—something that ought to be tied to our very humanity—is instead chained to the ways we can be useful, eventually, to society at large.  

Schools seem to emphasize the pressure to achieve constant success and to be perpetually busy for the singular goal of college. This pressure, however, hinders students’ opportunity to discover or pursue goals of their own and contributes to the day-to-day tedium of education.  

Rarely does anyone explain why we’re studying geometry or reading Shakespeare beyond the immediate goal—to pass a test or class. Rarely do we hear the ways we’re worth more than the quantitative product of our labor. Rarely does our education at school feel designed to do more than produce workers with good resumes, rather than help us come alive.  

At times it seems that schools’ systems push the idea of college and career so much that they forget to tend to students’ hearts and souls. We’re in school systems for most of our childhood and young adult years. Although schools are not the only way we might discover our purpose, we spend the formative years of our lives here—schools should at least not hinder the ways we seek purpose, well-being, and mental health. 

Participants in the Springtide Ambassadors Program (SAP) directly shape the research efforts and nationwide community engagement of Springtide Research Institute by participating in group collaboration and personal reflection. They meet monthly for more than a year with a steady, online cohort.  

Ten ambassadors, spanning two cohorts, composed this reflection. Their voices represent seven states from different regions of the nation and public and private school experience. Their current ages range from 13 to 24. They hold various identities, including Black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, multiracial, white, queer, straight, and more. Their diverse social locations and creeds inform their perspectives. We are proud to have their varied voices and ideas represented here and throughout our many Springtide resources. 

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