Solutions: Rival schools collaborate on mental health

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. - Many students are still feeling the effects of the pandemic months after remote learning ended. A new cross-campus collaboration in Vermont is focused on helping students talk about the emotional toll and share with others.

South Burlington and Rice Memorial high schools may be rivals on the sports field but at an event recently both schools were playing for the same team.

“After the pandemic, people still felt isolated,” said Raphaela Sully, a senior at South Burlington high.

“There are so many student-athletes who are struggling,” said Sydney Adrian, a senior at Rice Memorial high.

Two high school seniors at two different schools with one goal in mind.

“When I started it, it wasn’t something that wasn’t something super talked about,” said Adrian. As in providing support for their peers who have spent more than half of their high school years in a pandemic.

Adrian started the school’s first mental health awareness club, which became one of the biggest clubs on campus, giving students a new outlet to just talk. “We’ve gotten so much support. We actually helped to make sure that we get a mental health counselor at the school next year,” said Adrian.

Just down the road in South Burlington, Sully is part of a similar club on their campus. Realizing that many students are having similar discussions, the two clubs joined forces to put on an event in support of local mental health organizations. “In doing this, we’re trying to make the community come together,” said Sully.

“Once the youth say what they’re interested in, adults will follow,” said Gar Smith, a prevention counselor at South Burlington. Smith says even though the stigma around mental health is easing, the conversation is taking on a new meaning for students after COVID. “In this endemic phase, we’re seeing a lot of people that maybe weren’t affected before. But then all that isolation -- either with them or their families -- we’re seeing a lot of stuff come up where we need more people in schools and communities to offer safe places for people just to talk about how to feel better.”

Smith said that, beyond the pandemic, different social pressures can be a lot for students and that they should start by focusing on what they can control, such as whether they’re sleeping well, eating well and exercising.

Students say conversations in clubs on campus are also helping in the mental health push.