Cleveland students tell administrators how to help them with pandemic stress causing absences

Students discuss issues around a table
Cleveland Metropolitan School District students broke out into groups to discuss ways CMSD can help students with pandemic-related stress. [Jenny Hamel/ ideastream Public Media]

Cleveland Metropolitan School District students have missed an alarming amount of school this year and members of the Student Advisory Committee told administrators in October that pandemic-related stress was the main reason for the absences.

On Monday, about 200 members of the student committee convened again to offer their thoughts on how the district can help them, as well as staff, deal with that stress. District officials became concerned in October when data showed nearly half of students, 47%, were on pace to be chronically absent, which is 18 absences in a school year. Students who are missing 10% of classes are considered on track for chronic absenteeism.

CMSD CEO Eric Gordon asked students Monday to talk privately with their high school delegation first, then share their findings with him and the larger group.

Alana Bettencourt, a senior at John Marshall School of Engineering, talked about her group’s interest in “sensitivity trainings” to “better educate staff on what’s going on with students.”

“Another thing we wanted to highlight was longer breaks or even, like, mental health breaks or days to, you know, give students and teachers a chance to refresh and kind of relax,” Bettencourt said.

As students shared their ideas, CMSD staff wrote them down on big poster board for all to read. The students shared thoughts on homework, after-school programs, school meals, flex credits, longer mental health breaks, field trips, sensitivity workshops and supportive spaces.

A CMSD staff member uses a large poster board to record students' ideas on how to deal with pandemic-related stress at the second of four Student Advisory Committee meetings. [Jenny Hamel / Ideastream Public Media]

During the meeting, CMSD’s data analyst Dr. Jason Smith went over responses that students had given during the last session in October when asked why some students might be hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"The most common thing you told us was because of the fear. People are afraid to get the vaccine. They don't understand what's going to happen. They don't want to get sick,” Smith told the students. “Another problem is the lack of information. People don't know enough about it. They don't know where to get it."

Students also cited conspiracy theories and side effects of the vaccine as top reasons behind vaccine hesitancy, Smith reported.

Mayor-elect Justin Bibb also made an appearance at the meeting, telling students that their generation will help achieve real change in Cleveland.

“This city cannot be a model of equity; we cannot be a model of economic opportunity; we can not be a model with public education without your talents and time," Bibb said.

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