Hello – My name is Chelsea, and I am a junior. It is an honor to share my educational experiences with you to support the establishment of safe and supportive learning environments for all students.
I love to learn, and academics come easily to me, but school has been difficult. Even though I am an honors student enrolled in early college and appear to be thriving, every day is a challenge as I navigate my anxiety and depression. Not knowing what to expect as I move through the day, I am left searching for emotional and social safety but not always able to find the relationships I need. Class is often the hardest place to be. I find myself sitting with idle time, unchallenged by content that is required but not an appropriate fit and frustrated when told to “just deal with it.” It makes me feel ignored. That is when my anxiety and depression find room to grow, fill the void, and become overwhelming. But, because I am on track to graduate, my needs are easily overlooked. I am left to manage it myself, making it hard to maintain a sense of belonging and remember that I like learning.
The situation would improve if all teachers saw me for more than my grade and policies were flexible enough to meet my needs. When a remedy is offered, it is usually a visit to the guidance counselor. They are already overburdened, and I am too often told that the next available appointment isn’t for days or weeks, even though during a panic attack I need help immediately. Besides, guidance only offers me Band-Aid fixes, not solutions, and doesn’t address the real issue: I can’t learn in an environment that doesn’t allow me to be comfortable and find my own path.
I try to advocate for myself, but my voice is rarely heard and, when it is, the responsibility for student well-being isn’t shared by all adults so I find myself talking to the same people over and over again, constantly shuttling back and forth. It feels like each time there is a problem we forget about the last time it happened. It is frustrating, and I have the self-respect to know that I shouldn’t have to do this.
I and other students can tell you from experience what does work though, and there are adults who know how to help. They often share our experiences, treat us as equals, prioritize our well-being, and know how to gain our trust so that we can access the learning we so badly want. Those who can connect with us understand the unique challenges of our diverse and often disadvantaged student body. They know us well enough to know when to say, “just take a breath,” and when we need more than that. They can offer help without being demeaning and notice when you aren’t yourself.
But those adults quickly become stretched thin and there simply aren’t enough of them to help us all. We need an entire culture shift so that throughout the day, wherever you go, there is a shared understanding of what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming learning environment that meets the needs of everyone.
I consider myself lucky because I am a member of our school’s Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) program. I’ve found a second family that gives me a strong foundation of emotional and social stability and motivates me to be successful academically and pursue a career in technology. We all need and deserve access to positive relationships, a sense of well-being, community, and our own potential. A more responsive environment, sustained by mutual respect and a willingness to adapt, will help everyone in the school building, adults included, and address the true source of our many challenges.
It is for that reason that I ask you to please continue making safe and supportive schools a priority and incorporate student voice in all education matters. Thank you for all that you have already done to make my learning possible.