Student Becomes Outspoken Advocate For Online Learning After Seeing Its Positive Impact On Mental Health Of Her Peers

By FaithHoney Anderson

*TW: Suicide*

Mental health is the elephant in our classrooms.

With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, I believe it’s important we take time to address students’ mental health concerns as well.

I am an advocate for mental health especially when it comes to my peers. I’ve had two friends die by suicide throughout my high school years, and those tragedies have pushed me to speak up.

Far too often, we allow bullying and the social pressures in our schools to overtake the classroom, when learning should be front and center. Far too often I have seen mental health issues joked about and not taken seriously by my peers or the adults around us.

We all need to take steps to learn more about how to have a positive impact on our students’ mental health. And our classrooms should be the first place we start. I have seen first-hand the positive impact that finding the right learning environment can have on the mental health of students, because I have found just such a place. As a senior at Wyoming Virtual Academy, I want to share four reasons I have found online learning to be beneficial to my mental health.

Adaptable School Schedule

Unlike your typical brick-and-mortar school, in online learning you do not have a bell telling you when to switch classes. Instead, you control how much time you need to spend on each subject. In addition to a set schedule of live classes (with real teachers and classmates), this personalized approach to learning allows you to spend more time on topics you may have a harder time understanding, and move quickly through those that are easier for you to comprehend.

This also allows more freedom for enrichment, community engagement opportunities, doctors’ visits, or even counseling appointments. Research shows that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, and seeking treatment and support for mental health can improve relationships, academic performance, and even your physical health. Your education doesn’t have to suffer at the expense of your mental health, or vise versa. Instead, you have the ability to succeed in both!

A Support System

I have been fortunate in my school experience, knowing my teachers and counselors are there to support me every step of the way, whether it’s academically or personally. I can receive one-on-one help and instruction in any of my classes, as well as thoughtful support and encouragement on my journey to earn my diploma and start to plan my future. I don’t feel like just another number in the classroom, but instead I am a valued student and my teachers want to see me succeed.

With online learning you also have a trusted adult as your learning coach, who is there to help you on a day-to-day basis with coursework or other needs. Having this kind of support in the classroom can completely change the trajectory of a student’s life.

Positive Social Environment

The typical American classroom is no longer a place where just learning occurs. Over 20% of students ages 12-18 report experiencing bullying nationwide. Over 6 million students have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. This is a staggering number of students, yet are we seeing any improvement in the environment of our classrooms? A ‘zero tolerance for bullying’ sign at the front of our schools is simply not enough.

I’ve found a positive social environment with my peers in online school. Despite what most people think, many teens have found and maintain friendship online. A Pew Research study found that 57% of teens have met a new friend online. With online public school, students have the opportunity to join all sorts of clubs and extracurricular activities, like creative writing, e-sports leagues, fashion design, or even peer mentorship groups. My classmates and I can even attend social events to meet in person (pandemic permitting, of course!). These opportunities dispel the myth that if you attend school virtually, you are cut off from a healthy social life. The 21st century reality is that knowing how to communicate effectively online is the way of the future.

The Ability to Take Breaks

Often times, students just need the time and space to take a mental break. So often, we are under an enormous amount of pressure to constantly perform and produce results – whether it’s in sports, the classroom, college applications, or socially. All while our brains are still developing biologically and we are going to be more emotional under stress. Having the ability to just stop and take a break can have an enormous impact on our mental health.

When we have a school environment where we are free to be ourselves and to manage our academic goals in ways that meet our needs, our potential is exponential. We are more productive, and our mental health only stands to benefit.

FaithHoney Anderson is a senior at Wyoming Virtual Academy. She is a mental health advocate and is serving as the national Vice President of Development for Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).