A new year for mental and physical health
This year, to address the concerns like Fowler’s, the Midtown administration is adding new measures to address inclusivity.
“The school has hired more personnel to address certain gaps that may have been present, albeit unintentional, with our bilingual communication and additional graduation coach,” Assistant Principal Tekeshia Hollis said. “A lot of money has gone into being able to meet students where they are. A career liaison was added last year because not everybody wants to be college bound, and our goal is to be college or career ready.”
The school is also adding new programs and resources to provide mental health support for students. Two of these programs are CHRIS 180 (Creativity, Honor, Respect, Integrity and Safety), a service designed to provide counseling for at-risk students, and Social Emotional Learning (SEL), which occurs four days a week.
“We have CHRIS 180 as a partnership with the district,” Hollis said. “We have SEL actually embedded within the school day with a stand-alone from what we have been doing the past two years. Teachers are getting more training around Social Emotional Learning, and the counselors are being more involved in instances where students may act out to look more at restorative justice.”
While new to the school year, some believe that the delivery method of the SEL lessons is preventing student engagement.
“I think it’s kind of hard to be sitting in a room with 32 other students, all of the students on separate devices, and being asked to engage and be vulnerable in that sort of format — on a Zoom call with several hundred students,” English teacher Lisa Willoughby said. “I’m not sure that that is an ideal delivery system.”
Junior Chloe Walker believes the lessons taught during the SEL periods are not applicable to students’ mental health issues.
“I feel like a lot of the lessons that we’ve learned, or had to do so far, don’t really apply to real mental problems or mental health issues that people my age at Midtown are facing,” Walker said.
The administration believes the new SEL model is a valuable part of the school day that allows students time for their mental health.
“I think the SEL moment that occurs four times a week is playing a great part, and teachers are also intentionally infusing SEL into the curriculum,” Assistant Principal Willie Vincent said. “It’s a part of the class to talk about how we are and how we connect to others. In addition, we have our social workers and counseling staff in place to help with any concept issues that are involved with mental health.”
Midtown is also trying to ensure students remain physically healthy by instituting new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. This includes mandating mask wearing at all times inside the building.
“I’m thrilled that Atlanta Public Schools is requiring masks,” social studies teacher Mary Van Atta said. “A couple of kids were coming back from lunch the other day, and they pulled up their masks when I asked them to, and they were like ‘Oh snap, I forgot to put my mask on.’ So, people have generally been pretty good about, in my experience, following the mask protocols.”
Midtown is also implementing contact tracing to isolate students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have come in contact with someone who has contracted the virus. The school has a “self reporting” form and uses seating charts for all classes.
“The teachers will be notified so that we can get the information from the seating chart, who was beside, in front, six feet,” nurse Wanda Taylor said. “Also, on that self-reporting form, it asks you to identify the people you may have been close to so that we can notify them as a close contact: [who you] ate lunch with, you might have been sitting next to on the bus or anything like that. Then, we go about sending out letters to those parents whose child may have been exposed to someone.”
Additionally, COVID-19 vaccinations are being offered to students and staff through the school. Midtown’s clinic, which opened on Aug.13, gave the vaccine to 80 members of the Midtown community.
“We had a company come in, and they’ll be back on Sept. 3, to give students that were able to get vaccinated … their second dose,” Taylor said. “I plan to discuss with Dr. Bockman if we can sign up more kids when they come back in September. That way they can come back again a few weeks later and do it again, and hopefully we can have more of a turnout of students to get vaccinated.”
Taylor is encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated and follow the new COVID protocols.
“The simple thing you [parents] can do is let them [students] get vaccinated and encourage everyone to wear their masks,” Taylor said. “It’s that simple, and it doesn’t even cost you anything. Parents choose for their children; so, they should choose the good thing for them.”
While the new school year is bringing about change, Vincent wants one thing to stay the same.
“My personal goal is stay in school — the whole year,” Vincent said. “We’re going to do everything that we can to stay safe because I think it is so invigorating to have all of the students in the building. Maybe the students all prefer to be at home on Monday, but we just love having you here.”
Along with Vincent, senior Dejah Phillips is optimistic about Midtown’s future.
“I feel like the school is on a really good path,” Phillips said. “The new building, cafeteria and logo allow the school to improve more and grow in a lot of different areas.”
While there is a strong emphasis on safety at school, the new building creates space for the future.
“I think aesthetically, the new building speaks to the quality of the community,” Vincent said. “There’s something really calming about the building — the windows, the views — and I think it just sort of typifies the soul of Midtown High School.”