Young people lead conversation on mental health challenges of distance learning

This extraordinary year has been challenging for any student: isolated from your friends, counting on the internet to work wherever you can get it, so you can try to follow a teacher on Zoom long enough to learn enough to navigate a project on your own. If you can find a quiet place to study and the internet doesn’t cut out again

The mental health challenges can add up quickly. Experts are saying, “Kids have hit a wall.”

The challenges distance learning places on students’ emotional and psychological needs, and how they are coping, is the topic of a youth-led conference on December 1: Navigating COVID-19 with Distance Learning: Mental Health and Academic Needs.

The conference is the second of three designed by the Youth Work Group for the Oakland Frontline Healers, who host the conference via Zoom for Oakland students ages 13-21 and for the Oakland community at large.

The first youth-led conference, held in mid-November, was called, “Addressing COVID Safety & Awareness.” After beginning that session with a meditation, Jonathan, a 2019 OUSD graduate who is now a community college student, talked about why it was important for youth to be leading this conversation.

“People say, ‘The youth is the future,” Jonathan said during the conference. “Well, actually, the youth is right now. Things that are happening are impacting us right now. This generation is going to be the one that changes a lot of the things that the older generations have put in place.”

Helping design and lead a conference like this has been good for his mental health, Jonathan said in an interview. “I’m a busybody, I like to do action things,” he said. “So this has kept me from going insane in the house. Cabin fever came in really strong, there is definitely some Zoom fatigue, but this has been different: engaging and has allowed me to utilize my skills, in terms of listening and communication.”

Chole, a senior at Oakland Tech, said the challenge of getting in front of the camera and presenting makes her anxious. She keeps essential oils nearby and tells herself, ‘you’ve got this’ — pushing her limits a little bit because she thinks this is important. 

“It’s nice to have the feeling that I’m able to provide people with something, even though I’m ‘just a teen,’” she said. “People say, ‘you’re just a kid.’ Well, there are so many things you can do if you’re just a kid. … People listening in (to the conference) helps me, and reassures me that I’m doing something (positive), and it gives me the energy to keep moving forward.”

To register for the December 1 Conference, go to

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