Mental Health in Education

If you ask a random Yellow Jacket to describe the last two weeks on campus, the majority would most likely respond with, “extended hell week.”

On the one hand, there was the academic side of hell week: first midterms in multiple classes on top of lab reports and extra curricular’s starting to pick up. It was tough, but everyone here chose to be somewhere where we can be academically challenged.

But then you have the emotional side of hell week… Many people know that GT has been on the news a lot recently. And not in a positive way. There was Irma, then a shooting, then a riot, then a fellow scholar died from an illness, and I recently heard that there may have been a few robbery’s as well (though don’t quote me on that one). Not to make light of any of these things, but I list them for the sake to say that our campus has not been getting the greatest press in the past few weeks, and I thought now that I’ve made it through hell week, I should take some time to reflect.

Thus I come back to my blog because it seems this is where my best reflections come out. (Even though they typically are written in about an hour with me just word vomiting onto a page, so who knows where this will go because I surely don’t right now. )

Anyway, as I was saying, it all started with Irma. The first wave of the storm. It feels so long ago, but then again so does the start of the school year, and yet we’re really it’s hardly been more than a month. I went home for the hurricane and got lucky that our power didn’t even go out, and GT wasn’t in too bad of a situation either so we got back in school by the Wednesday after with seemingly no problems jumping back into things.

Then there was the shot hear around the campus. I’ve been told it was the first time in GT police history that a gun was fired by a police officer on campus. I didn’t know Scout, but like everyone at Tech, I’ve been wishing for the best for Scout’s family and friends. And the peaceful vigil turned protest just seemed to come out of no where to me, because as I told friends who reached out to me around that time, it’s the kind of thing you hear about happening on college campuses but never really expect it to happen when you’re there. I was lucky enough to be in my dorm room at the time, and thankfully everyone I knew also stayed safe.

As for the death of Tessa Powers, I don’t know how public this was even made. All we were told was that she was sick and it was a sudden and unexpected death. I have friends who saw her two days prior at a coffee house I was invited to but couldn’t make it to. I can’t say I knew her well, though she was a member of one of my programs, and thus I knew several people who were close with her and her loss was felt deeply by the community.

To be honest, I maybe wasn’t worried enough about these potentially emotionally scaring events. I felt removed in some weird way, maybe because I was distracted by midterms and am also just not the most emotional person for better or worse. What I will say bothered me though, was that the protest was started by non GT students. Outsiders came onto our campus, caused a bunch of problems, and then GT is now has to deal with the bad press.

I don’t really follow the news as well as I should, but here on campus there was a lot of talk about that and it was making a significant number of students upset to see our school community being judged so much for a lot of things that just kind of happened to be on our campus. In times of struggle it’s at least nice to see a community come together, and I’d just like to acknowledge that tech did a great job of always alerting us when things happened on campus (I got at least 5 notifications telling me to seek safe shelter and then reporting when everything was under control). Furthermore, there have been lots of emails and announcements about events for people to pay their respects to Scout and Tessa and their families, and there has been lots of talk about mental health on campus with many resources for those in need of counseling.

Mental health actually has been a huge topic of discussion since I’ve gotten to Tech

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Student story: We need mental health education in schools

because my Grand Challenges problem is all about the evident stress problem on campus. And if feels like yesterday, though it was two years ago, that I was looking at this same problem at the Stanford d.School with the Innovation Diploma for interim. It seems that college campuses and mental health problems are becoming more and more of a conversation these days. I wonder why.

I haven’t done enough actual research to make a big statement at the moment, but my hypothesis is that it has a lot more to do with academic pressure from grades then schools would like to admit. The past two weeks have been very emotional for a lot of people and a lot of professors made the call to change schedules some because of that. Tests were pushed back in freshman chemistry. A few classes were canceled. Some classes became more of a discussion around the events of the past few weeks and were used as check ins to make sure everyone was doing relatively okay. Etc. That was great; I know it helped a lot of people.

Though I know some people still aren’t doing better. There are people on campus still overwhelmed with the events of hell week and can’t seem to find themselves taking time for themselves. Are we just going to be in this constant loop of people getting worked up, then something bad happening and then we address things, and then the cycle repeats? I’m curious as to what will actually change.

I know some people are advocating for more mental health services, though personally I have to wonder if people who really need help will take the time to utilize them. But I’m sure that will help lots of people who can’t seem to get off the wait list because their problems aren’t “urgent enough.” – yes, I had a girl tell me that.

Personally, my education oriented mind believes this is yet another example of why education needs to change specifically in regards to how we assess students. Assessment is a good and needed thing, that doesn’t mean number grades are the only way to assess knowledge and capabilities. I don’t have the answer for the “best system,” to be honest I don’t even know at the moment what I would suggest, but I know that students get too stressed over grades and these past two weeks have made me even more annoyed about it.

IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE ASSESS!

How might we get authentic feedback and assessment? The kind that truly allows us to have a safe space to fail and then learn and grow from our mistakes, without this looming fear of a few bad grades recking our future? What does a number really tell us? If people keep saying grades don’t matter after you get your first job and gain some credibility for yourself, then why do we keep grades at all?

I could go on, but I may just start sounding repetitive because I can feel myself verging into rant mode because this truly makes me deeply upset. I’m more than a number; and I want work that I feel is meaningful enough to work on for a reason better than just because “I want a good grade.” Isn’t that the real reason we still have grades? – because once they’re gone it will require us to give students different kinds of work which leads to a lot of new systems we need to prototype and explore?

It seems that the fact that people keep asking me, “how was your first hell week?” is reason enough to believe that this mentally and emotionally stressful environment wasn’t just because of the unfortunate and unpredictable situations of the last few weeks. If this is an inevitable unhealthy environment, that also means we should be able to prototype and test ways to avoid it, and I personally think that with some creative thinking there are a lot more options worth pursing than just increasing the number of counseling resources. (Counseling is still a great cause to fund, but there is always more than one way to solve a problem, and it seems like this is the only way being talked much about so far.) My vote is to rethink assessment since from interviews I’ve conducted and observations I’ve made, it seems to be a clear cause of a significant portion of stress and is something very controllable by schools, but it’s not the only way to tackle this challenge.

So what’s going to be our experiment to improve mental health in education?- and I’m not just talking about at Tech, because this problem is by no means isolated to GT, or Georgia, or even just higher ed.

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Starting Up Again

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Way back when in freshman year…

Today was my last first day of a high school semester and I already feel like we’ve jumped right back into things. I’ve already been planning events, attending meetings, and doing homework; not much has changed, and yet things feel somehow different knowing it’s almost over- not yet though and there is still so much to do!

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to take off right where you left off when you are around the right group of people.

Time for Random

Image result for crazy ideasOne of the things I love most about the summer is that people think of so many crazy ideas, and half of the time actually follow through with them because they have time!

Everyday I find myself reading texts from people with ideas about wanting to start a new club, or learning a new instrument, or writing their own music, or getting a group together to do all the parts of a Hamilton song, or trying to get a new skill in a sport, or wanting to take a day trip to some weird new place, and the list goes on and on! Summer is such a time of opportunity because besides a few books and math problems, time is all our own and we can use it however we choose.

It’s amazing how many interesting ideas come from when people have time to just sit and think. My friends can tell when I get a crazy idea because they’ll see me start staring off into space just pondering for a while; then I’ll shake out of it and start talking quickly for a long period of time about what ever I was thinking about.

I believe strongly that the less stressed we are the more ideas freely flow. When you are stressed you are too distracted by whatever’s stressing you to just think about random things in life, and yet random things are so much fun to discuss!

I never want to live a life where I’m stressed too often to have time to think about random things every now and then.

Capturing Work

It’s been a busy week for me with acro camp, coaching, and spending time watching Harry Potter with my family for the first time. I like being a little busy though because I like feeling engaged and productive and active. Though even when being busy and active, ID over the past two years has really taught me the value of capturing your work so that you can later look back and let others get a little closer to understanding your experiences. So for the past few days, on top of everything else, I’ve also been working on compiling a large amount of pictures from twitter of fuse16 to put into a video montage. And I’m happy to say that with it now being a week since fuse16, I finally have finished the video and have uploaded it to youtube so that I, and hopefully others, can look back and remember the fun and meaningful days we spent at this year’s fuse.

 

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.

Changing Time

Not going to lie, I definitely watched tonights last episode of Dance Moms with Maddie and Mackenzie and it was pretty stinking sad. It’s just another big change for next year to add to the list.

It seems this year so many things are changing and everyone just keeps thinking about next year and how I’ll be graduating and it’s all just flying by so fast. I can barely even believe our current seniors are leaving! Just today at our honors assembly we were honoring our 2 first ever graduates with the Innovation Diploma, and it made me realize, “Wow this all started just two years ago, and it now life feels like yesterday and tomorrow all at the same time.”

I know we (as a human population in many different contextual situations) always seem to bounce back after we think we won’t possibly be able to continue without certain people being constant members of our lives, but that doesn’t make it any less sad to see them go. I’ve been friends with members of the current senior class since my 7th grade and we’ve been through so much since then. Especially in theater, I still can’t imagine a world without our amazing techies who have been there since my freshman year always working and having fun with us, and all of the thespians who have joined us along the way.

Plus some of my favorite teachers are leaving, and in general the school is just going through such a rapid period of growth like one I’ve never before experienced.

We are in a period of immense, undeniable change not just with the graduation of another class, but in life in general. Everything around me seems to be changing all at once and it’s kind of a crazy time. In some ways I’m ready for this school year to be over, and in others I’m not at all ready for the next one to begin.

With AP exams, last assemblies, year books, and graduation all happening right about now, these have just been some thoughts circling my mind.

Growing from Mistakes

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Yay another opening night that went well! Tonight was the middle school production of The Lion King Jr. and it was really fun! (I mean who can’t have fun doing The Lion King???)

Obviously it wasn’t perfect, but hey it’s a middle school show, and the cast shows a lot of potential as they continue to grow as actors and actresses. I’m glad that I got to be a part of it because I’ve had a fun time up on stage with these young talents dancing and singing to some of the greatest Disney songs out there.

I made some mistakes myself tonight, but what I realized is how much I’ve grown since my days as a middle schooler. Once upon a time when I made a mistake in a show, it was pretty obvious and I would be very upset about it afterwards and sometimes it would effect the rest of the show. However, tonight when I messed up, I think I covered it pretty well. Then I was able to brush it off once I got off stage knowing that I did my best to correct the mistake and it didn’t dramatically effect anything and kept moving forward. (I entered a scene early but played it off by turning around and jumping back off confidently. My mom even thought that was actually suppose to happen, and trust me she would be quick to tell me if she knew it was wrong.) Now hopefully I’ll not make the mistake tomorrow.

I guess I really have learned to fail-up in the last few years. 🙂

Backstage I found myself doing some coaching for other kids tonight that were much more dissatisfied with their minor slip ups. To be fair, they have spent much more time on this show and I know I get more upset when I’ve put a lot of effort into making something great and then it isn’t up to my standards. However, I’ve also seen the rehearsal’s and know that they weren’t the most focused group, which also reminded me of how much I’ve grown in terms of focus in the last few years. I now rehearse everyday after school for 3 hours plus many Saturdays as appose to twice a week for 2 hours each, and even with the extra time we have to be even more focused and on point to make sure every detail is worked up as best as we can.

The process of growing up fascinates me, especially because of how often I’m working with younger kids. It’s weird to think about myself growing up too…

I Want Off the Train

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What happened to the drive? -The motivation?

Why have I stopped without hesitation?

What happened to my spirit? -The one pulling me to the sky.

It seems my wings have been broken. It seems I can not fly.

I haven’t blogged in several days. Far more than I’d like to admit.

The funny thing is that I’ve been thinking about procrastination. How our minds need creative breaks; time to divert in order to later commit. Time to relax before rebooting. Time to explore the nonsense for inspiration.

I’ve been on the procrastination train for several days. Away from blogging that is. But not by choice. No, not by choice at all.

Late nights till 12:30am at least. Performing, coaching, studying all day. The hour to blog just seems to get away.

But more than just blogging; yes, much more than just that. When no one is looking I’ve not been myself.

That passion for my work– especially in ID. It just isn’t there, at least not that I can see.

I go home not feeling driven. I’ve been leaving the work for at school. Not even my Gold Award has seemed to move.

I know it’s a problem. I think that’s quite clear. But where’s the opportunity? Where’s the road back? The procrastination train can’t be a one way track.

It goes round and round, on it’s long windy track, but to quote Miley Cyrus, “we always find our way back home.”

Don’t we?

I mean the train of thought in Shark Boy and Lava Girl may make us think differently- considering it never travels quite clearly- but even that train with all it’s twisting and turning hasn’t yet left the planet, so there’s that for a fact.

Why is it that sometimes we can be so excited about something, but then as time goes on it just seems uninviting? I just don’t understand. I have no comprehension. I mean even right now I’d like to be watching the High School Musical 10 year reunion, but instead I’m caught not near a TV and thus this blog is finally happening.

How do I get re-excited about my projects? How does it become something I just can’t put down? Like a good book that makes you ignore everyone for the purpose of finishing in a day?

I know I need to work when no one is watching, but instead I wander and wonder. And is that so bad? Maybe not all the time. I’ve enjoyed time with friends, family, and searching online. Buying a piccolo, coaching at a meet, performing a show all about feet. Watching new shows and choreographing new dance, even going to a basketball game- would you believe it?

I’ve been doing these things, and it’s been quite fun. But my work lately hasn’t been giving me this same thrill.

This train is fun to ride, but at some point the train comes back right? Back to the stop of productivity? Back to a time when you fell motivated to fly?

But how do we get back there? I’d like to try. But creating motivation really is like trying to fly: it’s nearly impossible on demand.

So I’ve looked to  old blog posts that tell me to “jump in,” but that advice doesn’t help when I’m in but can’t swim.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been productive on some level. I have a role as Curriculum Manager for my current venture and have looked at many objectives, essential questions, and emails lately. Even learned about vinyl cutting and laser printing.

But I know I’m not in it. Not 100%. Because when I go home it’s not on my mind. I don’t feel the drive. I don’t keep working even when I have time. Instead I just wander along on my path not knowing where I’ll be going next.

I hope I find it again. The engagement in all that I’m working on and in. I want to want to work when I’m out of site of peering eyes. When it’s just me and my computer with my tiring eyes. I love the feeling of being excited, working non stop because I’m having fun. I know this can’t happen all the time, but I’ve been in this rut and am ready to escape.

I’m ready to get off of the train if only I could figure out how.

 

 

Disaster Plan

85b8117b-ebb5-4470-8d4c-74063446e9ea.jpgToday was preview night for our winter show The 39 Steps and it went superbly!!! The entire cast was really happy with tonight’s performance and can’t wait to keep up the energy and fix those last few tweaks for our shows for the rest of this week.

You know you’ve put on a good comedy show when the audience is cracking up the whole time, and that’s exactly what happened tonight! Everyone said they loved it and it was a hilarious joy to watch.

This ensemble has been working so hard (and for only a month at most) to put on this show, and I’m so happy to be a part of the process because it’s just been such a pleasure!

Between theater and the gymnastics competition season starting up, I’ve made a recent observation about myself: I’m pretty decent at pre planning disaster plans. When ever I choreograph a routine or memorize for a new show, I always try to memorize everything correctly, but then I also think about a few scenarios about what could potentially go wrong to try and figure out what I would do in those situations. In both cases that means how can you best make up for what ever you missed by tweaking your normal flow a little.

So, maybe add a little more dance, or tweak a later line to make up for something important that was missed (by you or another stage mate), or shoving a prop into someone’s pocket in order to get it to the other side of the stage.

This is one of those random skills that I wouldn’t normally think of when thinking about  skills, but I’ve realized that this can be applied to other situations as well. Mainly when you give any presentation because you need to make sure you hit on everything that’s really important, so even if things don’t go in your exact planed order, make it happen; the show must go on!

Clearly you want to try to memorize and do things the intended way, but it’s kind of nice to practice some disaster plans because that way you are more prepared to think and act quick for when something inevitably doesn’t go exactly as planned.

It’s just a funny fail-up skill I’ve noticed this past week that I thought was worth sharing.

Individuality

images-1.jpgBeing a leader is hard. I’m the founder of Kemps Khaos Club at MVPS last year, though we were an un-offical club 2 years ago as well, and each year we’ve tried to improve our student-faculty card game tournament.

This year we set up the “Kemps Kouncil”  to help deal and organize all game times. However, trying to organize the Kouncil to make sure they organize the games is a whole other challenge. It’s been challenging mainly because usually I’m that kind of leader who, when something isn’t being done, I just do it myself to make sure it’s done. However, with Kemps, I’ve really been trying to let my team mates take that responsibility and just give them reminders to make sure it gets done. The hard part is when I get questions from teachers about when they are going to play their next game and all I can say is, “I don’t know, your dealer should be sending you an email soon…”

A lot of times when I’m on a team I end up in a leadership role. It’s just my personality and nature I guess, even in a letter I have from my preschool teachers it says, “When playing in a group setting, Anya prefers to be the leader but will allow other children to take over that role as well.”

In fact a lot of that letter is a surprisingly accurate description of how I still am today, which seems so weird considering I was 3 at the time this was written. I wonder how old we are when our fundamental personality traits start showing. How much do we really change over time? What traits start showing themselves earlier than others? What personality traits are more likely to change over time versus staying consistent through out a person’s life? What shapes our personality?

I feel like in high school one of the most common faced problems is someone feeling the need to be like someone else, rather than feeling comfortable with embracing who they are.  Everyone is an individual person with different personality traits. Some that are praised, and others which show our weaknesses, but they all make us, us. Our differences are what make us unique, special, noticed amongst the crowd.  At a wedding the bride is the one in a different dress. When trying to get someone’s attention you stand up to be spotted in the sitting crowd. In a sea of yellow flowers, it’s easy to spot the one that’s a radiant, ruby red.

For the amount of stress teenagers go through with trying to figure out “who am I?” I wonder what it would be like if schools placed more time and energy into helping students embrace their individuality. It’s a skill that will truly last a life time and be invaluable to success.

Individuality is important to me, and it’s something I see people struggle with all the time which makes me sad, frustrated, and oddly ignited. HMW help people feel comfortable being themselves? It’s a question that’s been asked by people for centuries, so why does it seem that not much has changed- I mean if the question is still being asked, clearly the problem hasn’t been solved. Why not? Are we asking the right question? Are we tackling the problem the right way? Are we communicating and working with the right people?

I feel the designer inside of me burning with questions and a sense of agency to take action in some way or form yet I simply don’t know where to start, so I’m starting with these questions. Hopefully something will come from them.

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