The typical routine a school year brings has been lost this year, as students adjust to hybrid or fully remote learning models and ever-changing reopening plans. According to McKinsey, 75% of the 50 largest school districts in the country have decided to start remotely, and the UN estimates that 94% of the world’s student population has been impacted.
While the disruption the coronavirus has caused the educational system is clear, the long-term impact on students’ mental health is even greater cause for concern. Research recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that young people who are lonely are up to three times more likely to develop depression, creating mental health issues that could last nearly a decade.
The study found that more than one-third of adolescents reported a high level of loneliness during lockdown. While these findings are alarming, utilizing service-learning to supplement traditional curriculum can give students a sense of purpose and connection, helping mitigate loneliness in a digital environment.
One program that has shown success in fostering social and emotional learning is the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program, which encompasses digital lessons in leadership, as well as creating and implementing team projects to meet a need in the community. “What I want people to take away from our project is that even through isolation, you can still find ways to help out in your community,” says Genesis Morgane, a student from Garner, N.C. who created the “Corona Relief Crew” through the program, distributing kits with essential food and supplies to the homeless and those in nursing homes who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
While the pandemic meant that students had to rapidly adjust to physical distancing guidelines, they were successful in completing their project and building meaningful relationships in a remote environment. “The most amazing part of their efforts was that everything was done virtually,” says Dr. Cleopatra Lacewell, the teacher overseeing the Corona Relief Crew. “The youth had to engage one another through emails, texts and a computer screen, which is often a challenge for me as an adult.”
The Corona Relief Crew was honored by Lead4Change with a $10,000 grant for the nonprofit of their choice, but an equally rewarding outcome of the project was instilling in its participants a sense of meaning in connection in their community. “We decided that everyone is at home, alone, having to stay in quarantine and distance themselves from everyone else,” says Morgane. “We said, ‘Why don’t we think about them and let them know that we have not forgotten about them.’”
For more information about the Lead4Change Student Leadership Program and accompanying Challenge, visit lead4change.org. The disruption students face due to the pandemic is widespread, but not evenly distributed. The UN’s research found that groups that are already vulnerable when it comes to receiving education—those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, and persons with disabilities—experience the greatest impact.
The good news is that many digital programs like Lead4Change, which is a free program for all participants, only require enthusiasm and investment of time from students and their teachers.
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