I listened to a podcast from the Aspen Institute entitled, “College Students, Mental Health and the University’s Role. Two college presidents, Dan Porterfield, formerly from Franklin and Marshall College and Paula Johnson from Wellesley College were discussing how universities should be supporting students’ mental health. Much of what they talked about applies to our students at OIS and high schools need to begin this process before our students move on to university.
Increasing numbers of adolescents are experiencing anxiety and depression. I believe that international schools are here to educate the next generation of young people and before they can start learning, we need to ensure they are healthy, both physically and mentally. I 100% agree with Dr. Porterfield, and feel that we the educators at OIS must see the whole child – the talents, emotions, family, culture, etc. that they bring to our community. Often, emotional or psychological issues block great learning and students are not able to progress. We need to address these issues. Of course, we are not a hospital and we do not take the place of a family, but a school should be very aware of mental health, raise awareness with our families and deal with it the best we can and direct the student where they can receive further support.
One issue mentioned was stress. The International Baccalaureate is a challenging curriculum and with our Diploma Programme students, comes much stress. Many of our students are under pressure (from a variety of sources) to achieve and get into selective universities. Stress is unavoidable in our lives and can be good for us. We need to give students the tools on how to manage it. And as I always say, what is good for the students, is also good for teachers and parents. We need to focus on the well-being of all community members.
The speakers go on to talk about helping students learn how to socialize with alcohol, seek help for anxiety/depression and learn dating norms, especially when it comes to sexual harassment. Some of these topics are for the university level, but the groundwork should be laid in high school, and even in an age-appropriate manner down to the elementary school.
This academic year OIS is working on improving our pastoral care program. One major initiative will be in January when we will host a weekend workshop with Dr. Christopher Liang from the International Counseling Program at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We will be learning how to identify and support the mental, emotional and psychological health of OIS students.