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Beyond Worksheets: Countering Hopelessness

In this extended clip from "A Trusted Space: Beyond Worksheets," we tackle the pressing issues young people are grappling with today, from mental health struggles to educational pressures and concerns about school safety. The focus isn't solely on the challenges; we also highlight the importance of supportive relationships in schools. Whether it's teachers, counselors, or security staff, these connections serve as vital lifelines for students in distress. The way forward is finding practical ways to make a difference in the lives of students and educators alike.


"I think a lot of kids are stressed and depressed for good reason. They're concerned about the future. They increasingly realize that the adults who they thought they could turn to for guidance and preparing them for life in the future aren't doing their job because the future is looking pretty bad, pretty bleak. COVID exposed a lot. I think it exposed a lot of inequities in our society. And I also think that kids have been realizing more and more that this is a world that has been created by people. And I think I'm hearing from kids more, more that it's like just not a world that they're interested in living in. So I recently heard that about 70% of our young people don't have hope for the future. And so when we work with young people and they don't feel hopeful, they are struggling to find reasons to engage, they're struggling to find reasons to try, they're struggling to find ways to move forward in a way that is optimistic, that has positive outlooks in their horizon.

Students are dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, body image and eating disorders. The list goes on social media and its impacts on mental health. Our students are juggling so many things and they're expected to be in class all day and evaluated up to seven times a day by seven different teachers at the same time. So it's a lot to hold and a lot of the things that they're bringing are not discussed in the classrooms, right? You're coming with all of these experiences and these feelings and you get to class and you're just focusing on chemistry. And so consequently, we're seeing kids act out. We're seeing a rise in suicides.

We're seeing, you know, substance abuse, fentanyl going up. So we, the people are dealing with it in other ways, but not ways often that are healthy. And, mental health is a crisis in this country. It's a crisis that we see on our streets every day, but we're also seeing it with a lot of our kids and, and teachers as well who are burning out from doing this work.

Even the kids who get, oh, they have straight A's, they seem so happy. Even those kids are often in pain and we just don't know it yet.

I mean, I kind of, I kind of see kindness, but I feel like it's not really real. It's fake. I feel like being at school is like a sitting spot for bad things to happen. Like you can go outside and get bullied right there, or you can go outside and there be something violent happening, something like that.

School shootings are like very worrying for my, like, it distracts me when I'm learning because it's a constant fear that someone might come into our school and put us in danger School, You know, school safety has taken on a whole new, realm in the last 20 something years, right? It's completely unacceptable of what we are facing right now in society.

I think it can be really hard to see the gifts of young people today because they have had to defend themselves with protective layers over years and years of hardship. Learning how to be resilient in the face of times of social media, in these times of polarization where there's so much of us versus them, you versus me. And so children today, young people today, teens, today, they have created these defensive mechanisms and they've started to build walls around their heart to protect themselves as a survival mechanism.

But over time, that can become hard for educators to really get a sense of who you truly are behind those defense mechanisms, behind those walls of defense that we've built around our heart so that we can feel safe.

I would encourage you to open up to ask and find that adult, you know, who that adult is that you see. Trust them, open up to 'em. If they turn you away, go on, knock on another door until you find the one. There will be a teacher who is going to go ahead and listen to you and help you. It might not be the first one, but don't stop there. Don't stop there. It could be a counselor, it could be a coach, it could be anyone on campus. It could be one of the aides that's at lunch. It could be the security guard. Just someone that's an adult that you can share that will listen to you. They will listen to you. Keep searching until you find that person.

That's the person's going to keep you protected, safe, and gonna help nurture you in the path that you need to go.

My advice to students is ask questions. Something is basic. How are you today? Or remembering that Mrs. Fitzgerald's dog went to the vet and saying, Hey, how, how's your, how's your dog, Mrs. Fitz? It teachers respond. They will respond to that because oftentimes teachers don't feel like people care.

Usually when I approach my teachers, they brighten up because not a lot of students usually go up to their teachers. And so when you show that you're interested into, into like your schoolwork, it makes them feel good about it themselves and it makes them encouraged to help you.

I believe that we need to give respect to get respect. So if we all respect, that just makes it a better learning environment. If students and teachers, students and students, teachers and teachers have mutual respect for each other."

-Pedro A. Noguera, PhD


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