MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders sat down with students across the state to learn how they are handling the challenges of COVID.
“What would be helpful to you and your friends? What can the state do, what can the community do, and what can we do here in Washington,” asked Sanders Monday night.
One by one, the nine high school students explained their concerns, including the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. “Throughout this year, my teachers have asked me and my fellow classmates to rate how stressed we are on a scale from one to 10. And every single time, without fail, the lowest rating in my class has been an eight out of 10,” said Iva Armour-Jones.
Armour-Jones is a senior at Brattleboro Union High School. She says Zoom classes, coupled with hours of homework and studying, have taken their toll. “I feel like, in some cases, there’s been a failure to acknowledge the mental suffering of our generation and how that has undeniably caused so many of us to feel overwhelmed and, at times, even hopeless,” said Armour-Jones.
Others mentioned feeling isolated or unable to complete assignments because they lack a dependable internet connection. “When doing remote learning, I sometimes find myself in search of clear connection that I need in order to attend regular Zoom meetings,” said Winooski High School student Hussein Amuri.
Broadband has been a serious challenge for another student in Newport, Vermont. “The biggest struggles for me was staying connected. At home, I struggle with WiFi. Living in rural Vermont doesn’t offer the best Wifi solutions,” said North Country Career Center student Dustin Beloin.
Holly Morehouse, Executive Director with Vermont Afterschool, was one of many adult experts on the call. She says listening to Vermont’s children is crucial. “They are the future, right? They are going to become the adults and nurses and teachers and policymakers in Vermont and elsewhere, and the experiences they’re having now will shape that,” she said.
In fall 2020, Morehouse conducted a survey with seventh through twelfth graders from five Vermont communities. She says it concerned her to see that roughly 38% of youth reported feeling that their difficulties were sometimes or often too difficult to overcome. She reported that at least 45% said their mental health got worse as a result of the pandemic. More than one-third experience sleeping problems.
On Monday, students told Sanders they would like to have more access to mental health services. He assured them that elements of the $1.9 billion stimulus bill signed last week by Pres. Joe Biden will help. “The emergency bill that we passed just last week will provide many, many, many billions of dollars, specifically for mental health, for community health centers, and mental health counseling,” said Sanders.
“We’re a small state, and I think elected officials are responsive to the people who contact them,” Sanders said. “I would hope that more and more young people do just that. Your voices are important. You are the future of this country.” He continued encouraging students to bring their concerns to their school boards and city leaders. “Even if you’re not 18 yet, it doesn’t matter. You have a right to express your point of view, especially in this very difficult moment you and your friends are living through.”