A guiding light
Teachers explain how they guide students through hardships
Fifteen minutes might not seem like a long time — but it depends on how you use those minutes. You could mindlessly scroll through your Instagram feed or play a few rounds of Temple Run on your phone, fixated on that small, bright screen. Or, World Core teacher Robyn Brostowicz says, you could head outside for a 15 minute walk to clear your head.
Throughout the school year, Brostowicz recommends different methods of destressing for her students to try, such as taking a 15 minute walk. She acknowledges that she can’t control what students do with their time outside of school, so she tries to give additional support while they are at school. For example, she frequently has students choose “Random Acts of Kindness” out of a jar to perform.
“While they are here, if we as a collective community can [have] a positive attitude, and certainly a more caring nature, I think that can be helpful for everyone,” Brostowicz said.
Assistant Principal Janice Chen has noticed that society is already making this shift toward emphasizing mental health. Many of the school districts she previously worked at had mental wellness centers with mental health professionals available, and MVHS also has four guidance counselors, two student advocates and two school psychologists on site. However, while Brostowicz may have students choose “Random Acts of Kindness” out of a jar to perform, a kind of break in their school day, Chen acknowledges that some students may not be as receptive toward this and would rather focus on academics at school.
“I think as a school what we have to do is remember that everyone is so different,” Chen said. “So we are going to try different modes of communication of education of these types of things [to] reach more students.”
While biology teacher Pamela Chow prefers to calm herself down by picking tasks to do that aren’t complicated or lengthy, such as washing dishes. She, like Chen, also acknowledges that one way of coping with stress might not be fit for everyone. She’s observed how her three kids all calm themselves down differently.
“Part of it is kind of finding a way to calm themselves down and know it and maybe part of it is slowly understanding what is going to calm you down and what isn’t going to calm you down,” Chow said.
Even as people may have different needs and capacities to handle their own stress, Chen emphasizes that no student’s feelings should be overlooked. If someone is feeling upset or depressed, Chen believes that no one is in the position to judge them or offer advice. Instead, they must be a good listener and show that they have an interest in assisting them.
“First [listen] to them, you know, ask what’s going on,” Chen said. “Ask ‘why are you feeling this way?’ and if something happened. Just [get] them to start talking and feeling comfortable.”
Chow agrees that immediately offering advice may be the wrong step to take. Rather, it’s a matter of students realizing there that is someone there to either listen, offer a perspective or some kind of reminder.
“I think in general, I just try to let the students know that I am there, but in a way hopefully where they don’t feel like I’m lecturing them [and telling them] what they should do,” Chow said.
This relaxed way of helping students through difficult times is also echoed by Brostowicz, who emphasizes that someone with depression can’t be “ordered [to]” to “be happy” — they must be offered the proper tools and support to find their own happiness. According to Brostowicz, teachers can pick up such tools at mental health conferences that are offered to teachers around the area. Ronnie Habib, a teacher at Palo Alto HS, introduced his “EQ Schools” (“EQ” meaning Emotional Quotient) program during an MVHS staff meeting. The program suggested ways to break up the school day with mindfulness activities and meditation.
“There were some follow up sessions that we could volunteer our prep periods to go to for some additional activities and to experience them, so we know what it would be like to do them firsthand,” Brostowicz said. “[This made] teaching them [on campus] a little bit easier.”
However, Chen acknowledges that it’s not just teachers, but students, too, who can be essential in caring for their peers’ mental health. Chen says a lot of students share with her about the way their friends helped them the most through their difficult times. Others believe that they’ve helped save their friends’ lives, which she is why she thinks that depression is certainly preventable.
“It’s just because it’s been so taboo in our culture like that we’re not talking about [trouble with mental health] explicitly,” Chen said. “But you know, now that we are equipped with tools to do so, we can we can save more lives.”