We extend our congratulations to the high school graduates of the class of 2022. As we do every spring, we have chosen an adjective that we believe best represents the predominant characteristic of US students this most recent school year.
The New York Times noted in a recent series that students in school today are filled with anxiety, based on interviews with more than 350 counselors across the US. One Oregon high school counselor was quoted as saying she had seen more physical fights this year than in her 15 years of service combined.
In general, counselors are reporting that students are struggling with emotional regulation and with key social behaviors. Important social skills and in-person behaviors have been replaced by online behaviors that are unchecked and unregulated on many different platforms and apps that do not address the social-emotional needs of children.
More than 70 percent of counselors have reported hearing students talk more frequently about difficulty resolving conflicts with friends, and more than half said the number of harassment incidents online has increased this year as well.
But perhaps more importantly, 86 percent of counselors said they noticed more students having trouble focusing on classwork and engaging in classroom activities this year than they did before the pandemic, and 94 percent said students were showing more signs of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic.
It is widely accepted that mental health challenges are associated with negative educational outcomes, and the decline in academic outcomes, measured by standardized tests, has certainly coincided with the post-pandemic increase in mental health challenges faced by students.
Over all, our choice of the adjective “disengaged” addresses the increase in mental health challenges for students, the reduction in their social skills at dealing in person with both peers and adults, and the noticeable and statistically significant decline in academic outcomes for this year’s graduates.