Dashawn Sheffield, a rising 11th-grader at Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy Washington Park High School in Newark, explains why he decided to launch a new student wellness council.
When the pandemic hit, I transitioned from in-person to virtual learning like countless students throughout the nation. We all went from our routines to being inside, staring at computers for eight or nine hours.
My friends and I felt disconnected, and to help alleviate some of the stress, we started talking and helping each other with homework and life. While I felt like I was navigating virtual classes OK, I realized many of my friends were not. Some of us felt depressed and isolated; others struggled to manage ADHD.
I wanted to know more about how my peers outside of my friend group were doing. I sent around a survey, and heard from about 40 people in each grade. I heard again and again about stress, the hard workloads, the fear. I felt like we were all going through the same struggles but we were keeping it bottled up inside.
This is what activated my ambition and drive. I wasn’t really active in my school in student life before the pandemic. After COVID, I wanted to be a student leader. Last summer, I went to my school leaders and proposed the idea of a student wellness council. I wanted students to have a space to process with one another, and for us and teachers to get more training and advice on mental wellbeing.
Our school ended up really listening to us on this. At first I was worried it was all just performative. But in the fall, our school offered a new class on mental health and wellness and our council went into effect.
We now have a student-led space to educate parents, staff, and students on the importance of mental health — increasing awareness around struggles and helping us build resilience. This next school year, we plan on having mental wellness days, one day out of every month geared toward mental health.
I currently live with my godmother — a lot of people around us have passed away sadly. We feel angry and fatigued — and we’re not alone.
Strong education systems are essential to the recovery of students. A school should be at the center of the community and form deep partnerships with the people and businesses of the neighborhood. And every school should work with students to launch a student wellness council.
This was first published in Chalkbeat.