The first Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) meeting of the new year was held on January 19. Temporarily setting aside the academic boundaries presented by distance learning, the discussion was focused around a more personal issue; the mental health and emotional well-being of Berkeley High School (BHS) students.
Before the meeting, a survey was sent out to students and parents. Out of 113 respondents, 71.3 percent said they or their child suffered from boredom in class, while another 67.6 percent disliked the lack of interaction. The class that the greatest number of respondents had trouble with was math, as well as language and science, apparently due to the shortened instructional time. Under the question about fears created by distance learning, many commented on a lack of preparation for college and future Advanced Placement (AP) courses. One respondent answered, “[I have a] fear that teachers will see students of color as a threat to their health.”
The conference was hosted by the president of the PTSA, Sandra Loving, and Mimi Pulich, the executive vice president, in an effort to bring attention to the more harmful side of distance learning. Pulich had attended recent school board meetings, but felt that the previous reports were an overly positive representation of public opinion. “What we were hearing the other night, including the responses to our survey, was not so upbeat. Or at least [it] certainly conveyed a different message,” Pulich said.
Throughout the discussion, students and parents voiced concerns and shared personal stories about distance learning. Many parents were adamant supporters of school reopenings, referencing apathy and signs of depression in their children due to the lack of social interaction. “The risks of distance learning are much higher than the risks of going back to school,” said one parent, mentioning a recent panel that had presented viable ways that schools could be opened safely.
Anaya Loving, a sophomore in Academic Choice (AC), brought up the anxiety many students face as a result of COVID-19. “While we can make a program that promotes going back to school, I also think it’s really important that we improve distance learning, because personally, I’m not sure if I’d want to go back to school,” she said.
Although no teachers spoke during the meeting, parents showed interest in hearing their opinions on the multifaceted issue of school reopening. Since December of 2020, the BUSD Teachers Union has expressed hesitancy to a full-time return to school, and many parents were concerned that BHS wouldn’t open in fall 2021. Though the members of the meeting were relatively divided on reopening, they all agreed that distance learning was having a harmful effect on the mental health of most students.
After recording students and parents’ stories at the discussion night, Loving and Pulich plan on sharing them with the community and administration. Even if it won’t lead to an immediate change in the structure of distance learning, the PTSA is hopeful that it will help parents and students feel heard.
“One thing that I really want us to focus on is what we can do right now to support each other,” said Loving. “We felt like there were parents and students that still didn’t feel like they were being heard. And so we decided, as a collective [and] executive team, to make that happen.”