NH schools face behavioral and mental health challenges

When SJ Walker returned to Keene High School last fall, he was accustomed to the district’s COVID slogan: “We’ve got this!”

But as he passed through the corridors, he saw chaos.

“Everyone was saying,‘ Yeah, we’re in control of this, ’” Walker recalls. “But it was like they were all running in different directions and running from each other.”

Walker wore headphones to block out noise and prevent social interactions. He moved away from the fights in the corridors, but the interruptions were inevitable: a small group of students skipped classes every day and walked around the halls. Some responded to TikTok’s bravery by vandalizing bathrooms and peeing on soap dispensers. Others protested at the school and were suspended.

The situation was so aggravated that this spring, teachers began to wear orange reflective vests and began to control the corridors during free time.

But the problems are not over. Recently, Walker and others held a sit-in to report cyberbullying and sexual harassment at school.

Some days, he says, he feels like he’s in jail.

“It’s just a big one, sorry my language, s — the show, it’s the best way I can say it,” he says.

Keene High School’s behavioral problems are serious, but they’re not the only ones. As they approach the end of another tumultuous year, New Hampshire schools are facing an increase in behavior and mental health problems that threaten to shape education after the pandemic recedes.

Students and staff have told NHPR that most students have successfully returned to the classroom, but as schools struggle with behavioral problems, there is a major mental health crisis.

Adolescent anxiety and depression are on the rise in New Hampshire and across the country, and experts say that this cannot be due to behavioral problems. Schools have introduced new measures to support students, including Social and Emotional Learning programs, meditation skills, counseling, and sensory rest. But the chaos of the pandemic has caused it.

“None of us like uncertainty,” says Steve Schlozman, a child psychiatrist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. “Our brain doesn’t like it; our societies are not doing well. ”

Schlozman says that in recent years teenagers have not been able to get the anticipation they need from school or home, which has disrupted their development.

“A lot of the brain is changing so much – from so many everyday experiences, and even from minute to minute, things on the outside have to be as consistent as possible,” he says.

When that stability disappears, some social norms begin to collapse.

At Somersworth High School, young Maggie Lanoue says most students are doing the best they can, but there is a break in communication and respect. Children shoot and fight videos in the corridors and post videos on social media. They insult teachers and do not apologize when they are reprimanded.

“Students say,‘ Anyway, it doesn’t matter, ’” Lanou says. “It doesn’t matter what an attitude is.”

At Manchester West High School, director Rick Dichard blames social media for the escalation of clashes this year on social media. For much of the pandemic, most West High School students were studying remotely. Their social interactions also moved online, and that’s where most of the conflict begins.

Students post gossip and threats on Snapchat. And then they go to school, where these conflicts personally escalate.

“There’s too much; It’s an overload, ”says Dichard. “When your brain is overloaded with everything with this stimulus, I don’t think there’s a way to process it all.”

Dichard says that when staff talk to their students about their conflicts, they usually calm down and resolve their differences peacefully.

But unrest is on high alert. He spends more time than ever watching security camera movies trying to guess who is causing trouble in the hallways or in the cafeteria.

Many of West High School’s disruptive behaviors, like many high schools, occur in restrooms. Students regularly break down walls with the desecration and accusations of their peers, sometimes leading to fights. They also go there to relax when social tensions and anxiety increase.

And the response from many schools — asking for toilet cards — has frustrated students, especially those who didn’t have to apply for a toilet for a year in distance learning.

Mackenzie Verdiner, a high school student at West High School, says the bathroom rule has begun to feel like a sign of a lack of trust between staff and students. Recently, he says, an employee followed him to the bathroom to enforce the rule.

“I’m screaming while I’m peeing, [asking] I have a toilet paper, ”Verdiner recalled. “Why? I don’t have all the answers; I know it’s ridiculous. ‘

Christopher Barry, an English teacher at Keene High School, compares the current atmosphere at Keene High School to a plane crash: If you have a small problem on your own, it’s manageable; but if you accumulate a pile at the same time, it’s a problem.

“That’s what happens in our schools: five to ten small problems, all of which happen at the same time,” he says.

Schools are left in a difficult place, trying to establish consistent rules for dealing with behavioral problems while treating students as individuals, each with their own set of mental health needs. Many mental health providers and school administrators say this will be the main challenge for schools next school year.

Barry, a Keene High School teacher, sees reason for hope. The district’s slogan – “We’ve Got This” – was important in helping COVID stay afloat during the crisis. But now people are starting to talk more openly about the mental health of the pandemic.

“It simply came to our notice then. This is crazy, ‘he said. “And I didn’t ‘get’ this.”

Leave a Comment