Impacts of quarantine on mental health


Potomac SmugMug

Potomac community gathers together for assembly.

Billy Marin, Executive Editor

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Potomac community, along with the rest of the country and the world, has been forced to socially distance for the foreseeable future. While the coronavirus outbreak has caused death and economic suffering, it also has a negative effect on mental health due to feelings of isolation. 

“I worry about people who come to our club a lot … because we can’t have our meetings as often and our meetings aren’t as interactive,” said junior and head of Safe Space Shelby Thompson.

Shelby noted that for clubs as intimate as Safe Space, Zoom or Facetime is not an environment that is conducive to deep and serious conversations. 

“We are wired to have human and social connections, and without that, it definitely makes us feel disconnected, less motivated and just not quite ourselves,” said Upper School counselor Josie Woods.

The fact that the Potomac campus is both the physical and emotional center of the Potomac community makes the shift all the more strenuous. 

“The majority of students and faculty are at Potomac from 7:45 to 6 or 7 at night or even much later, so not having that is a big piece [of feeling disconnected],” said Ms. Woods.

Disconnection within the Potomac community is an especially important issue because of the important role teachers play in many students’ lives. 

“One of the reasons I love Potomac so much is the genuine connections students and faculty have with each other, and we can’t recreate that exact same relationship at the moment through distance learning,” said Ms. Woods.

Teachers are working to stay in contact with students despite the physical distance. 

“We talked to the faculty a lot about . . . giving students flexibility with deadlines and choice. To let students play to their strength which hopefully will help alleviate some pressure,” said Tory Virchow, Upper School director of curriculum and academics.

An important factor regarding the mental health of Potomac students, and of the school as a whole, is the school’s grading system for the rest of the school year. The school announced that for year-long classes, as long as students keep up with their work, their second-semester grade will not be lower than their first-semester grade. 

“We wanted to acknowledge the good work the students are doing, because that can be very beneficial to mental health. And not just because someone wants an ‘A’ on their transcript, but because it’s good to get meaningful feedback from teachers that affirms the work (students are) putting in,” said Ms. Virchow.

Ms. Virchow explained the administration’s decision regarding grades as a balancing act between leniency to make sure students know they were supported and maintaining academic standards. She added that Potomac could not guarantee a Pass/Fail grading system would be adequate for students or athletes applying to colleges in the future, which could be an additional source of stress for Potomac students given the uncertainty currently surrounding the college admissions process.

“We wanted to make sure that whatever we do, we wanted students to know that we would work with them as individuals and be flexible with them,” said Ms. Virchow.

Even barring the virus crisis, this school year has been especially difficult due to the tragic losses of two juniors. 

“I just want to tell the administration that we are going through it. We’ve had a hell of a year. Two people have died,” said Shelby.

After these losses, the administration is trying to be considerate of the effect on students and the community as a whole. Upper School counselor Ms. Woods explained how she and the administration are working on improving access to programs, such as with the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. 

“Being home right now for a number of our students, especially if they’re dealing with preexisting mental health challenges, is very difficult. Particularly given everything that happened at Potomac this year with our community losing two members of the junior class, we want to be aware and mindful that if we have students who can’t do the work, that we are here to support them,” said Ms. Woods.