Kentucky Students Report Strong Mental Health Impact of Pandemic Disruption in Statewide Survey
Kentucky middle and high school students experienced significant behavioral and emotional changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the interruption in a traditional learning environment, according to the Student Voice Team.
During a student-led news conference Wednesday afternoon, members of the SVT outlined their summary report containing findings from their statewide Coping with COVID Student Survey. The high school researchers shared key themes and data highlights they gleaned from the 9,475 middle and high school students representing 573 schools and 119 of 120 Kentucky counties who completed the survey they designed last May.
“Our survey showed many Kentucky students felt a need for mental health services, and some for the first time, during the pandemic,” Nyasha Musoni, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington. “Many students who already were struggling also said they were unable to access these services when schools closed.”
Musoni noted that students from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds reported nearly double the rates of depression than other students.
“We know from our research that there is a strong correlation between academic success and students’ emotional health and that it is especially pronounced when students are feeling financially insecure,” said Musoni. “Emotional support for our most economically vulnerable will be a key strategy to ensuring better academic progress this fall.”
Survey results also showed that educational experiences appear to be linked to emotional experiences. Older students tended to have more negative emotional changes; 23.4% of middle school respondents felt more anxious, versus 41.9% of 11th and 12th grade respondents.
Lack of adequate access to technology, increased responsibilities at home and work, and changes in physical, financial, and emotional safety and stability all created new challenges for students, according to respondents:
- Nearly one-third (32.7%) of students surveyed had parents (or adults in the household) who lost a job or whose pay/hours were cut.
- Student employment was more variable, as 13.3% of students had reduced employment, while 9.8% had increased employment.
- Students experienced high levels of uncertainty about their K-12 schooling, postsecondary education, and their career aspirations. Roughly one-fourth of students described a change in their future plans, and 54% of those changes were negative.
Prichard Committee President & CEO Brigitte Blom Ramsey applauded SVT members for their diligent efforts in compiling and presenting the results of the survey.
“This intergenerational team of student and adult researchers have spent thousands of hours interviewing and analyzing results of the survey,” said Blom Ramsey. “Their work needs to be heard by educators and administrators throughout our schools and institutions of higher learning in an effort to help our schools and our students adapt to life and learning in the midst of the pandemic, and after.”
Spandana Pavuluri, a sophomore from DuPont Manual High School in Louisville, said the student study should be a key component for decision-making in districts.
“We are proud to amplify and elevate the thousands of Kentucky students who took our survey last spring,” Pavuluri said. “We see the response as proof that students want to be partners in navigating the current public health crisis and hope their feedback will help guide decision making as the new school year approaches.”
Student Voice Team researcher and Frankfort High School sophomore, Audrey Gilbert, encouraged Kentuckians to share results that have emerged from the student research.
“As primary stakeholders, students offer important insights on a range of issues affecting their education in this moment of unprecedented education uncertainty. It is essential that anyone who wants to be sure our schools are equitable and effective pay attention to what they are telling us,” she said.
The Kentucky Student Voice Team is a statewide organization of young people who are co-creating more just, democratic Kentucky schools & communities as research, policy & advocacy partners. From 2012 to 2021, KSVT was incubated at the Prichard Committee, a nonpartisan, citizen-led organization working to improve education in Kentucky for all ages.