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Richmond school tackles mental health challenges facing tweens mid-pandemic

Posted at 8:06 AM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 05:55:04-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the heels of a challenging 2020, one Richmond school urged parents and educators to learn more about helping their adolescent children navigate.

The Orchard House School in the Fan, a school for adolescent girls, launched a public webinar series Monday to address challenges many preteen and teenage girls face -- not only on a regular basis -- but with the added stress of the pandemic.

The series is called "Insight into Today’s Up and Coming Tweens."

In it, the school planned to bring together a group of educators and therapists, along with an author and TEDx speaker, to address those challenges: everything from remote learning, to social media influences, self-acceptance, body image, racial equality and mental health.

Hadley Driscoll, an eighth grader at the school, said she was one of three other students in her class opting for fully virtual learning. She said overall, it had been a positive experience.

"So school starts at 8:15, and there are definitely some mornings when I just brush my hair and pop on," said Driscoll. "We get pretty long breaks. We get 20 minute breaks between classes so I'll talk to my mom about what I did in science class and history class."

More time at home for Driscoll also meant more time with her new pup, Willow.

"We rescued her at the end of March last year," said Driscoll.

But even though Driscoll said she enjoyed virtual learning -- she did say there had been some challenges.

"It can be a little bit lonely at times because all of your friends are at school and you're used to having school with all your friends sitting around you," Driscoll said.

She added she was thankful to have her dog by her side to keep her company.

"The academics and the intellect can't really come before the emotional health and well-being of girls," said Head of School Laura Haskins.

Haskins said some of the biggest struggles she noticed was that sense of loneliness and isolation among middle school girls.

"Girls, more than anything want to belong, and in middle school, that is such a compelling force in their lives," Haskins said. "And so, when they're feeling separated from their peers, they really are missing out on a crucial piece that they need for their development."

Haskins said one of the best ways to address those struggles with your tween, included not only giving them grace, but yourself as well --- and normalizing conversations about mental health.

"Just normalizing conversations around the fact that sometimes you don't feel okay, you know, sometimes you're having a hard day. That's alright. Let's, let's talk about it. And let's get through it," Haskins said. "And let's celebrate the hard times that we've made it through already."

For Driscoll, a small gesture made a big difference.

"Recently I’ve been really tired," Driscoll said. "It's just like, the middle of the year fatigue has kind of gotten to me. And my Spanish teacher checked in on me, she sent me an email saying, Hey, are you okay? You just seem a little exhausted. And so it was really nice. And I feel good, that my teachers are noticing me, even though they have 20 other kids to look at."

The first meeting in the webinar series was Monday evening. They’re being held from 7:30 to 8:30 online, each evening through Thursday.

Tuesday evening’s meeting will focus on tackling racial equity.

The sessions cost $20 each, but public school educators can join for free. Anyone interested can sign up at orchardhouse.org.

Haskins said the series was open to the public, but it is especially geared toward parents, caretakers and/or educators of adolescent girls.

"I just think it's really important that we come together, and we are honest about the challenges that we're having. Because we really are in new territory," Haskins said. "And so, I think a lot of us at times feel like we don't have answers. I think there's even power in just talking to other people and hearing, yeah, you're not alone. You're not alone, and the way you're feeling I feel that way too. But then having some people that have either done the research or have the, you know, the professional backgrounds to help guide us in that will be valuable for a lot of folks."