Which social issues do students need to learn about to be prepared for their futures: vaping or racism? Mental health or gender issues? These are difficult decisions faced by school leaders around the country.
The mission statement of ELHS, posted throughout the hallways and classrooms, says that ELHS “prepares students academically, emotionally, and socially.’’
How does ELHS choose which social issues to address?
“There is no one set formula,” said Principal Michael Susi. “We just try to find time in our schedules to address the major problems.”
Over the past few years, there have been more schoolwide presentations about substance abuse. However, some students and staff question if they are effective or worth taking students out of class.
Although the school is doing what they can to prevent vaping, such as giving presentations, junior Grace Vlaun, an elected student representative on the Board of Education, has noticed a lack of discussions about other problems.
“There are other social issues that [students] are concerned about,” Vlaun said. “There… needs to be a better outreach to the students. We never really talk about what we want to see.”
Sophomore Sydney Sager, an advocate for ending gun violence, agrees with Vlaun. She thinks there is more the school could be doing, “but they aren’t.”
Many students agree with Vlaun and Sager, and want the school to discuss other social issues. According to an ELHS Saga Instagram poll of 200 students, only 27 percent felt substance abuse is the most important issue that needs to be discussed. According to the same Instagram poll, the social topics that students felt warranted the most discussion, in order from greatest to least, were: suicide/mental health, substance abuse/vaping, racism and sexism, and LGBTQ+ issues.
It is promising, however, to note that in recent presentations, both mental health and substance abuse have been main focuses.
Senior Rain Fulcher believes that sexual harassment is among the social issues that the school should discuss more.
“[Sexual harassment] is definitely a big problem that we don’t often see as something that is easy to talk about, but it… obviously needs to be addressed,” Fulcher said.
Another social issue many schools face is violence. Gayle Oko, the Southeastern CT leader for Sandy Hook Promise, a violence prevention organization with 6 million members nationwide, educates students from preschool through high school about how to treat and include others in a way that disarms hate.
“[Educating students] can’t be a one and done assembly. It has to be constant conversations and discussions,” Ms. Oko said. “Research has shown that it’s in small group discussions that people get real and share their ideas.’’
Assemblies are not the best way to approach discussing social issues with students, but it has been hard to find time and resources to pursue other possibilities, said Mr. Susi.
“We are always having talks about what we can do, and more importantly, what students and teachers want done,” said Mr. Susi. He and the administrative staff are open to hoping for suggestions from students and teachers.