Mental Health: A Relatively Overlooked Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Emily Shen (V)

March 6th, 2020: the last day that Pingry students, faculty, and staff were on campus before the implementation of masks and social distancing measures, and the last day of school as we knew it. As students shared their plans for spring break and discussed the possibility of the break being extended, no one could have predicted that COVID-19 would affect their lives as much as it did. The pandemic has disrupted the globe both economically and socially, drastically altering how people interact and how corporations operate. We watched as an event found more often in history textbooks than real life unfolded right before our eyes.

Millions of Americans have been infected with COVID-19 since last spring, and as of January 24th, more than 417,000 people have died in the U.S alone. The pandemic’s social and economic consequences — such as the loss of precious lives, the spiking unemployment rate, and necessary adjustments and sacrifices made to stop the virus’s spread — continue to heavily impact every individual and every family. Emotional consequences, therefore, tend to seem trivial in comparison and are often overlooked.

During the pandemic, many people with mental illnesses have been significantly affected and require more support. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, before COVID-19, nearly one in every five U.S. adults reported having a mental illness, with eleven million of those adults having or previously having a serious mental illness that impaired their life in some way. In these unprecedented times, the number of those needing mental health services has only increased. As a result of the social, economic, and personal stress induced by the pandemic, more than one in three adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, compared to the one in ten reported in 2019 prior to COVID-19. Substance abuse has also become a bigger problem during the pandemic, and without external interference, the problem has only been exacerbated over time.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S.’s mental health care system was failing to meet people’s needs, especially for people of color and of marginalized gender identities. Systematically oppressed people are arguably more in need of mental health services as they statistically face disproportionately higher rates of poverty, criminalization, employment discrimination, and homelessness. As the U.S. and many other countries reallocated funding to focus on doing damage control for the pandemic itself, the issue of already-insufficient funding for mental health services only worsened. According to the World Health Organization, over 60% of countries worldwide reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people. Some of the most notable groups that experienced disruptions include children and adolescents (reported at 72%), older adults (reported at 70%), and women requiring antenatal or postnatal services (reported at 61%). Although WHO has recommended that countries increase their funding to cover mental health services, the cost of resolving other pandemic-related medical issues cannot be neglected. National leaders are in a challenging position as they try to balance the effects of the pandemic as a whole.

On a positive note, national and international health organizations recognize the growing significance of people’s mental and emotional health and are taking actions to ensure that individuals can take care of themselves during this time of uncertainty. For example, the Centers for Disease Control has shared information and recommendations regarding stress coping mechanisms on their online resources page. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has also provided resources to address the pressing issue of mental and emotional wellbeing during the pandemic. More accessible mental health care via telemedicine and teletherapy — where individuals can seek help from professionals over the phone or remotely — alleviates the stress caused by social isolation and provides patients with hope for a better tomorrow.  Members of the Pingry community have been working together over the past year and supporting each other through difficult times. If you are struggling with your emotional and mental health, please seek help from your family, friends, or a trusted adult. Visit “Wellness and Support” on the Pingry website where you can find counselors and resources to address your needs. We are here for each other, and nothing is more important than staying safe and connected!

Club Spotlight: Humanities Center

Club Spotlight: Humanities Center

By Emily Shen (V)

It is that time of year again: the Humanities Center is now open! As the School continues to experiment with Pingry Anywhere, students are looking for the best ways to seek academic help outside of class. Although beneficial, it can be difficult and intimidating to sit down with a teacher over Zoom. For this reason, Sam Wexler (V) and Emily Shen (V) have decided to open the Humanities Center as a resource for Pingry students. 

Wexler and Shen designed the Humanities Center around the realization that connecting with peers can be extremely beneficial to learning. Whether that be working on projects together, or last-minute cramming, hearing a friend’s way of thinking can help retain information a lot better.  

In a year of instability, the leaders believe that academic support among peers is more important than ever. The Humanities Center aims to accomplish this by assisting students in their History or World Language classes. The tutors are a group of qualified students who have taken a specific history or language class within the last year, and have a thorough understanding of the material from that class. Through the Humanities Center, they will utilize their knowledge to help each student in a timely manner. Whether the student has a simple question, or needs more extensive help reviewing the class materials for an upcoming assignment, the tutors will be able to provide the appropriate help. Given the protocol for club meetings this year, all help will be carried out remotely; the designated tutor will connect with the student via email or set up a Zoom meeting to ensure that the student’s questions get fully answered.
The Humanities Center is a safe space for all students to receive the help they need in their History and World Language classes. We encourage students to make use of the Humanities Center as an additional resource to the academic support provided at Pingry. If you would like to learn more about where you can access the Humanities Center, feel free to click on the announcement on Pingry Today, where you can find a request form. If you are interested in joining us or have any other questions, feel free to email or for more information!

Art by Emily Shen (V)

Pingry Returns to Remote School

Pingry Returns to Remote School

By Emily Shen (V)

In early November, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to spike in New Jersey and across the country, members of the Pingry community wondered whether the school would transition to fully remote learning. And it did. On November 13, Head of School Matt Levinson sent out an email to the Pingry community addressing the operational status of the Basking Ridge Campus. From that date through the week after Thanksgiving break, the Middle and Upper Schools would transition to all-online instruction. According to Mr. Levinson, this was a difficult decision based on numerous factors, including case numbers at Basking Ridge and concerns about travel during the holiday season. 

Many members of the Pingry community expressed a lack of surprise by the School’s decision. Leila Elayan (V) was expecting Pingry’s decision to shift to remote learning the week before Thanksgiving due to “the steady increase in cases in the area and nationally.” Moreover, the increasing number of students who were contact-traced was another salient indication of the impending shutdown. According to Lailah Berry (V), “a lot of students and staff were contact-traced after Halloween, so going fully remote seemed like a necessary precaution,” especially with the prospect of folks visiting family over Thanksgiving break. 

Last spring, Pingry transitioned to remote learning for almost a whole semester, but for many, the remote experience feels different this year. Teachers spent a lot of effort over the summer experimenting with remote learning and are now much more prepared. When asked about her classes as compared to those back in March, Sarah Gagliardi (V) said, “I think since then we’ve managed to fully adapt to the idea of learning and working remotely, because, this school year, the idea of being fully remote is not as new or surprising as it was last spring.” She continued that “because this is not the first time we’ve gone completely virtual, it has given the Pingry community more time to prepare and work out the flaws in the process.”

Although the community is more prepared this academic year, some students still find remote learning to be exhausting. As teachers assign roughly the same workload they would if students were in school, students find screen time to be one of the biggest challenges of remote learning. “Remote learning is still exhausting,” agreed Sam Wexler (V). “I spend around ten hours on my laptop pretty much every day, partially because of classes, but also because nearly all my work is online.” However, given the nature of remote learning, there isn’t a lot that the teachers can do to improve screen time exhaustion. Most teachers have adhered to the “45-minute synchronous class” rule, but asynchronous work can still get overwhelming since most materials are still online. “I would rather we just have class for the full hour and five minutes, as whatever asynchronous activity we do is always on the computer anyway,” said Kristin Osika (V). 

In this era of uncertainty, members of the community have learned to appreciate the time they spend together in person. Many students who experienced both remote and in-person learning actually preferred classes to be fully remote rather than a hybrid model. “I much prefer it when everyone is home instead of the hybrid. I like it when everyone is pretty much on the same page and I don’t have to fear missing out,” said Elayan. Christine Guo (V) agreed, adding, “it was difficult to participate in class since half of us were in person and the other half were not. Once more of the class became remote, it wasn’t a problem.” Despite this, most students still hope to be together in-person again. Emma Drzala expressed that “in-person was definitely a better learning experience. Teachers could carry out more activities, especially in STEM classes.”

When discussing Pingry’s reopening plan after Thanksgiving, many were cautiously optimistic. Although the school has done everything it can to take health precautions, other factors, such as national COVID-19 case numbers and local guidelines, may affect the plan moving forward. However, although students and faculties could not all be in person, Pingry is still holding on. With the holiday season coming up, it is important to appreciate the efforts and progress that everyone is making. Stay connected and stay safe.

Pingry Returns to Remote School

Pingry’s Transition to Online Learning

Image by Andrew Wong (IV)

By Emily Shen (IV)

Since the conclusion of Spring Break, Pingry students and faculty members have adopted remote learning in order to follow the state-mandated social distancing guidelines. By now, they have finished their first two weeks online. Although this transition has not been easy, members of the Pingry community are working hard to resume the quest for knowledge as they try to find peace during this time of uncertainty. 

According to feedback from some students, most of their classes run synchronously or by using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Almost all of the teachers use Google Meet as the platform for “face-to-face” sessions or conversations, and most work is posted via Schoology or sent out through emails. Teachers make themselves available for help during designated time slots or during flexes and conference periods to make sure students can still seek extra help if they need to.

However, although the continuation of block schedules is supposed to help create structure, the switch to remote learning has not been an easy one for the students. Many have reported that remote learning is negatively affecting their productivity, and it often seems like there is less time for students to meet with their teachers for help. Because students and teachers are constantly interacting through their computer screens, some found that online school is more draining than typical school. Many students also report a significant increase in their workload, as well as a lack of motivation to finish it. Moreover, although teachers were guided to cut their 60-minutes periods to 45 minutes, students still spend hours in front of their computers between attending classes and school work.

Students are not alone in having to adjust to virtual classes. Many teachers also find themselves having to alter their usual way of teaching. “The biggest difference for me is that teaching is like acting or stand-up comedy. I respond to the energy of the group. When we are physically all together, I can see and feel so much more. I can tell when you are tired or sad or upset with somebody in the room. I can tell whether you understand or not, so I can adjust my response…Online, it all feels much stiffer.” said Upper School English teacher, Mrs. Grant.

For the last two weeks, teachers reported that they have gotten a little more used to the experience, but they continue to struggle with their lesson plans. “Lesson planning is very different, and it takes a lot longer.  I find myself reaching out to other language teachers, exploring different sources,” said Mr. Benoit, World Languages Department Chair and Upper School French teacher, “The most complex part right now is figuring out what assessments will look like at the end of each unit or theme.” Mr. Grant, a chemistry teacher at Pingry, believes that “if learning isn’t fun, then it will be easily forgotten. We need to help students gain the skills of thinking and reasoning that they will use throughout their lives.” 

When asked how they’ve adjusted to remote learning, teachers listed several examples of how they have had to adapt. “One thing I learned from my first class is that as a teacher, I hate the mute button for my students, and now I have a ‘no mute’ policy,” answered Mr. Grant. Ms. Thuzar, a computer science and math teacher at Pingry, said that she “spends more time planning and making sure that the remote learning experience for the classes is not too different from the actual in-person classes.” Although that is difficult to accomplish, Pingry students and teachers are all trying to find some peace and normalcy during this chaotic time. 

Like their students, some teachers have also found remote learning to be more tiring than a typical school day. “For some reason, this is all so draining,” said Mrs. Grant when asked about her experience, “Instead of gaining energy from being with all of you, I get exhausted. I was talking with some colleagues Friday evening, and they all reported that they wanted to take a nap in between classes.” Many teachers and students end up sitting in front of the computer and barely getting up the whole day. “I feel like all the classes are all lumped together into this continuous-time span where I sit at my desk in front of my computers for hours,” Ms. Thuzar added, “For the days I teach 3 or 4 classes per day, I ended up staying in front of my computers from about 8 AM to 4 PM, excluding lunch.”

Even though the future is filled with uncertainty, spreading positivity and hope has kept us going. Mrs. Grant shared a small anecdote that cheered many of her students up: “On a positive note, since Mr. Grant and I have opposite schedules, there is non-stop teaching going on in my house right now, so my cats are soon going to be ready for college!” Similarly, Mr. Grant shared that “these are definitely strange times. I think that the most important thing that remote learning can try to achieve is our sense of community. We will get through this experience and remember these times for the rest of our lives. With this in mind, I hope we can make some good memories together.”

Please take care of yourselves and continue to spread love and positivity amongst your friends and family! Stay safe!