Distance learning’s effects on mental health

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In her Algebra II class, Hack-Juman uses one device to do her work and the other to see her teacher and classmates (Photo/Kennedy Hack-Juman).

Technology is the future. A saying that, to many, may not have seemed too far fetched the past few years; as the computer software industry continued to rapidly advance, the idea of this technological utopia became more of a reality rather than the mere dream it was made out to be several decades ago. Fast forward to 2020 and what was once considered a privilege has now turned into a burden, especially for students across the country, and more specifically, this very campus.

Distance learning, a system that allows at-home students to join class through a virtual platform, has recently been incorporated into the schedules of many American schools. When taking total class time, homework, and phone-use into consideration, that adds up to an arguably unhealthy screen time for a student. According to a Science News for Students publication, children exposed to an excessive amount of screen time can lead to both mental and physical consequences, including anxiety, headaches and sometimes fevers. Especially with the rigorous curriculum Heritage has to offer, students could potentially feel pressured into overworking themselves even after the school day has finished on homework that requires the use of an iPad or laptop. This research correlates with the responses of the majority of Heritage’s high school students.

Students in grades 9-12 were asked whether they preferred distance learning or in-person learning, and a majority said in-person. (Photo/Kayla Giset)

The anonymous survey was sent out to students in grades 9-12 in order to determine the student body’s opinion regarding mental health issues stemming from distance learning. Over 75% of students who participated in the survey agreed that in-person learning was more beneficial for their mental health; several comments were made that further support this. 

Kennedy Hack-Juman, freshman on the Mock Trial and Speech and Debate team, is a part of the aforementioned 75%. “For me, I miss seeing humans in person,” she said. “I feel like most people really miss their friends and family. It’s super hard not to be able to have face to face interaction. It is hard to stay motivated for school and to be active,” Kennedy also feels that in-person school had more structure and made for easier navigation in what separates homework and classwork.

However, in contrast to what the majority of students believe, there are some who stand with distance learning and its positive impact on mental health. Freshman Liliana Shaw views the virtual learning movement differently. “I feel like distance learning has been affecting my mental health positively,” she said. “I don’t feel pressured to get to class before the bell and I don’t have to be anxious that I won’t get to class on time. I can eat breakfast at a time that is more convenient for me. Overall, it’s less stressful.”

Distance learning has also affected teachers and staff: Mrs. Lana Buchalter, principle of American Academy, sees both perspectives of her students. “No matter what we do, and keep in mind, we have a phenomenal system in place, nothing will ever replace human contact,” she said. “Teachers are learning, manipulating technology, and getting more and more confident with it more and more every single day- but it’s a struggle for everyone, and we slowly have to adapt to this new way of learning.” Mrs. Buchalter also left an additional piece of advice for her students, which was to take mental health breaks often, and to remember that everyone is in the same boat.

Learning through a screen is something that Heritage students know well, following the past months of last year; nevertheless, adapting to these crazy times is not the easiest task. Teachers, peers and friends know this, and are going through it, too. For a high schooler who is potentially spending several hours face-to-face with nothing but screens, mental health may become overlooked in comparison to the pressure it takes to manage such requirements for learning at home.

A study conducted by Loma Linda University Health also reinforces the importance of self-care and stress management. “Little things you do daily to prepare for school may feel trivial, but they can promote a healthy mind,” Jennifer Weniger, psychologist and therapist, advises students. “Don’t stay in your pajamas all day — maintain your regular routine as much as possible and take this opportunity to journal your experiences, or perhaps create a video of your experiences during this time.” 

The school has also implemented many resources such as Wellness Wednesday, stretch breaks during lunch, and meditation between classes. Utilizing these would only lead to benefits for one’s mental health. If the methods mentioned are added into day to day life, the damages done to one’s mental health by distance learning can be easily controlled.

Kayla Giset, freshman at American Heritage School in Plantation Fl., is endeavoring in her first year on the Newsmagazine staff. As an avid Netflix-binger and book-reader, there is never a dull moment in the writer’s life. If Kayla isn’t studying for an upcoming test, you’ll find her on the ice rink or reading a Marvel comic. She has watched every Marvel cinematic masterpiece at least four times, and hopes to eventually direct a film of her own.