Podcast: Preparing Teens for Life After High School
Scott talks to Mr. Ethan Solomon and Ms. Jena Mazzetti about how students and their caregivers can prepare for life after high school. Ethan and Jena offer advice to counter the stressors of preparing for college, share ways to be supportive of students without being overbearing, and answer questions about how young adults and their families can enjoy the experiences that lay ahead.
Ethan Solomon, MEd, is currently an educational administrator at the Arlington School, a therapeutic day school for students with social, emotional, and academic challenges. He serves as a school liaison with families, school districts, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Jena Mazzetti, MEd, is the transition specialist at the Arlington School at McLean Hospital. At the Arlington School, Ms. Mazzetti also leads SCOR, the Student Community OutReach club, and enjoys volunteering with the Arlington School students in the local towns and communities.
Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.
The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.
Scott: Alright, so thanks so much for joining us today. My name’s Scott O’Brien. I oversee McLean Hospital’s education outreach initiatives. And, you know, the topic of young adult mental health is an incredibly important one.
You know, these years are really often filled with challenges for young people. They’re trying to excel in school, they’re trying to make friends, they’re trying to, you know, kind of deal with all the different pressures, navigating social circles.
And, you know, young people are often exposed to many new and exciting opportunities during these years, but also, sometimes, they’re put into situations you know, that could potentially be life-altering and maybe even dangerous.
So there’s a lot going on. And at this time when there is so much going on, young people are also faced with, you know, what are you going to do after you leave school, or after you graduate?
And we’re asking young people to decide what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives a lot of the time, which is something that cannot be, you know, it’s pretty frightening to think about and can’t be taken lightly.
So I’ve been looking at this, forward to the session quite a bit because we’re actually asking for a rather unique perspective on this, is from folks that are working in a high school environment.
So today, two of our staff are here to help us better understand kind of the challenges faced by young people that are high school-aged. So Ethan Solomon and Jena Mazzetti from McLean’s Arlington School are both here, and they know a lot about helping young people through these often stressful years.
And for those who don’t know, the Arlington School is a therapeutic day school for students, that those students often come with social, emotional, or academic challenges. So Jena and Ethan, thanks so much for being with us today.
Before we start taking questions, would you both be kind enough to tell us a little more about what the Arlington School is, what kind of students go to school there, and about any challenges that may have brought a young person into the Arlington School?
Ethan: Sure, thanks Scott. Yeah, the Arlington, as you mentioned, the Arlington School, we are a therapeutic day school. We are one of the approved private special education schools. We’re approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
And students are referred here to us by their sending school districts, through the, out of district, special education out of district office. So we draw students, students are referred here from cities and towns from a pretty wide area throughout the Greater Boston area.
Some from, you know, as close as some of the surrounding towns, like Boston, Cambridge, Lexington, Waltham, and some come from like outside the 495 area, and even beyond. We’ve had students from New Hampshire in the past as well so.
We are a day school, so we’re a high school. An 11-month program. We have a summer session in July. We have right, we, right now, have 37 students. We’re a pretty small school.
Our ratio of staff to students, and teachers to students, is five to one, so the classes are kind of small. It can be more than five, but we often will have another staff member in those rooms as well.
And students, the profile of our students is mostly average to above average cognitively, but have usually have experienced some, you know, type of, some, or several, combination of mental health challenges that prevents them from attending their local school, their local sending high school.
So oftentimes students come to us having had one or more hospitalizations, can’t return to their sending high school. And some are here for four years, some are here for, for a couple years and then do want to return to their sending high schools.
Some get here right in time for their senior year and are only here with us for one year. So we’re getting to know them right as they’re, sort of right in the throes of that transition experience that you were just describing. So I think that’s a brief explanation of our school.
Scott: No, that’s great. Thank you so much for that.
What kind of situations would you say that students or families, may find themselves in before exploring, what, I hope this is okay to say, like an alternative school setting for some of these young people, like the Arlington School?
Ethan: An alternative school setting?
Usually our students are there, the opportunities and programs at the local high school have not worked for their, for their student, whether it, our students are all, they receive special education services, usually through classification of an emotional disability, and they’re on IEPs.
So that’s, I would say, the first step is that they require a more restrictive learning environment, and the opportunities that were provided from in-house, either at the local high school or another program within the district haven’t worked.
Or sometimes, you know, we’re not the only, there’s a whole range of other schools like us. Sometimes we get kids from some of these other approved private special education schools whose placement hasn’t worked out at that school, then us.
Scott: Excellent, thank you. So under the topic of today’s session, transition.
So what would you be able to say are the biggest challenges that young people often face when transitioning from high school to their next academic environment or to the workplace?
Ethan: Good question. The biggest challenge.
I have to say the biggest, and granted we just work with a small, through our experience, would be managing, making a selection of what they’re choosing to do in, at post-graduation, where they feel like they’re part of a community, supported, and how, with the support set up by them, and their family, and their team, to support their mental health as well.
So and I know that’s kind of a complicated answer to a loaded, to a big question. I don’t know if Jena has anything else.
Jena: Yeah and I think another challenge out of the students and teenagers can put a lot of pressure on themselves, you know, to think big picture about, you know, what they want to do as a career in four years.
You know, some students are already talking about grad school, you know, which is important, but that’s also putting a lot of pressure on the day-to-day life of a high school student.
Ethan: Yeah, I think identifying short-term and long-term goals are certainly important. And re-, in our case, realistic short-term and long-term goals.
Scott: So thank you for using that word. It’s realistic.
That’s exactly what I was thinking about when you started talking about people that haven’t graduated from high school and are already talking about grad school. I know you, you work with families a lot.
How do you bring families into the conversation around kind of future planning and things and how do you all ensure that people kind of get on and stay on the same page?
Ethan: Yeah, it’s, that’s a, that can be a challenge, you know, with families and often the relationships that some teenage, you know, some teenagers have with the, with their families, you know, which is a wide range there.
We really try and stress open and honest communication starting from regarding the transition process and just total transparency. And I think that’s important. And sometimes that’s challenging because, you know, some students may just change their mind.
And I know a lot of times parents want to support their students as much as they possibly can, but sometimes logistics and resources or the real, the reality of certain logistics and resources like geography and financial resources really are topics that might not necessarily have been discussed at this stage, but then have to be, you know, have to be considered.
Jena: And I think communication is key.
And I also think it’s always important, you know, as a parent or a caregiver to always include your child or the student in any of these communications and meetings that are involved so they don’t feel like they’re, don’t have a say or they can’t ask questions.
And I also think as a parent and as a caregiver, ask questions, get the information that you need.
Scott: On this topic related to families and asking questions and things, any suggestions for parents around checking in with a young person around how they’re feeling without feeling like you’re being nosy or a nuisance?
Ethan: That’s a great question.
I know, you know, we sometimes have this as staff members in school, you know, school professionals, we want to make sure we’re asking questions to not feel like that, important questions that need to be asked and not feeling that we’re being a nuisance.
But from a parent perspective, I would say a good question is trying to ask questions maybe that don’t have the answer, like yes or no. Like can you tell me about what you’re thinking of? Why, some of your interests or just something that can’t lead to a no, I think is always a good start.
But that’s, that’s a tough question. Yeah. For parents to feel like they’re not intruding while also wanting to be supportive to their students as well. I would say anything, any questions that you can potentially ask to draw students out.
Like, oh, can you tell me some more about this or tell me what you like about this and just let the, and see what they have to say about what they’re interested in.
Jena: And try to engage with them in a hobby that maybe they’re interested in to get kind of the conversation going.
Scott: No, that’s very helpful, thank you. And over the course of our webinar series, we have a lot of educators reach out to us asking about, you know, trying to engage the students, how to check in on them.
So I think it’s really helpful for educators to hear that as well as for parents because people are, I mean both audiences are very much concerned around the wellness of the people in their care.
And they want to make sure that people, especially young people, feel supported and also, you know, help build trust with them as well so they feel like, you know, God forbid something is wrong, that at least the young person would feel comfortable going to someone in their life.
Ethan: Yeah, I think just naming, just naming the fact that at this stage in their development that, you know, kids have a sense of responsibility and ownership in their future. I think for a lot of kids and even for a lot of parents that can be empowering.
I know it can be daunting knowing, but that, that kids at this, at that particular stage are sort of accepting that ownership and naming that with your child, too, saying, you know, we want to support you and you are the one that has, you know, the ability and choices because you’re 17 at this age or because you’re a senior in high school.
And I think that can be empowering for a lot of students knowing that they are. I know it can also be daunting and intimidating as well, but for some students they really identify it with that and may be able to take a little bit more responsibility and ownership.
Jena: And it is a tough, it can be overwhelming for a teenager and a high school student and although it might seem prickly at some points, I think positive reinforcement is really helpful as well.
Jena: It might not seem like it at the time. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Ethan: Yeah, any opportunity to give positive feedback.
Jena: Just the little things.
Scott: On that exact, on that very topic, being positive, if it’s met with any kind of, not resistance, but I guess, do you encourage parents and even educators too to kind of keep going with the positivity even if it’s met with less than positive responses?
Ethan: When you say less than positive responses, meaning to, to try and push. I think trying to push through and developing resiliency is extremely important, too. Absolutely.
I think if it’s something that’s realistic and especially if it’s something that had, you know, that previously had been discussed and possibly agreed upon, you’re kind of just following up on something.
Jena: I mean it’s the little things like getting to school on time, like great job. I know it can be toughest times if your teenager is not receptive to it, but I think a little bit goes a long way.
Scott: Thank you. Question we have from the audience.
Would you recommend that a student graduating from a therapeutic school go away to college, meaning live on campus, or instead attend as a day student and commute from home for the first year or two?
Ethan: Oh, that’s a great question. I’m going to turn it over.
Jena: Yeah, so that’s a great question. I encourage parents and caregivers and the students that are looking at four-year schools, when they’re on these tours to locate all the resources that a college campus has to offer.
So learn about what the tutoring center can offer, learning about the counseling center and what services that they can offer because each college it is different. I encourage the students to ask these questions of how do I access a counselor in the event I need clinical support?
So if you’re going in person to a lot of these colleges, I advise you to check out all the resources in person, ask to meet with the academic advisor, ask to meet with the tutoring center, ask to meet with the counseling center so you can learn exactly what the process would be.
Because there is a process, a little bit, you know, different than, you know, the school that your child’s attending right now where you might not be able to just knock on a door to access clinical support.
Scott: On that example.
Jena: So learn about all those things beforehand.
Ethan: And just to even answer further, our graduating students, there’s a little bit of a range.
Some do go away to four-year colleges, some stay at home and commute to college, some attend community college as well if they’re not quite sure, you know, that they, where they, if they or if they know that they’re not ready to not live at home.
So there is no right path. It’s a great question. It all sort of depends on, on what you and your child are thinking and what you feel is reasonable and realistic.
Jena: And there are a lot of resources out there.
There’s MassTransfer, so you can attend community college for two years, maintain a certain GPA and then automatically transfer to a state school.
So there are a lot of resources out there. So I encourage you as a caregiver to reach out to your guidance department to learn about what’s available.
Scott: So your response lines up perfectly with our next question. The, so you were talking about reaching out proactively to find out what services are available on a college campus.
Someone had asked, should a parent reach out to the college to set up a relationship with the mental health services themselves or is it really on the student to have that relationship?
Jena: So, unfortunately, a parent has limited and less access on a college campus, so a lot of the onus and responsibility is through the student.
A parent can certainly reach out and learn about the resources that are offered, but they would kind of be cut out, unfortunately, of communication during, you know, college time unless something was put in place with the student.
Ethan: Sort of one of those rite of passages that’s the, if the student’s going to college, they are responsible for initiating the supports.
Whereas they previously were probably, at least in our school setting, that’s an accommodation that’s provided to all students. It’s really the onus is on the student at that point, yeah. And that can be difficult.
Scott: What if a student faces barriers in accessing the counseling center or career advice due to lack of insurance or even wait lists? What advice do you have for navigating those situations?
Ethan: Good question. So I know for our students when they graduate from Arlington School, even if there are, you know, there’s, there are options.
I know if they qualify for, for example, the Department of Mass, DMH, the Department of Mental Health, I do know they do provide some degree of services for those that qualify.
And I think, I know for our students, a large number of them do qualify for those services as well as the Mass Rehab Commission. They qualify for some services there who may be able to provide some supports.
I know, yes, there are, you know, opportunities and resources, you know, that a lot of families do pay privately for, but at least I know in Massachusetts, and I don’t, and can I just ask too, are the audience members, is this a Massachusetts-wide thing or is this for anyone anywhere?
Because I don’t know if, how helpful giving, you know, advice about Massachusetts resources are to people for, are not from Massachusetts.
Scott: There will be people from Massachusetts here, but people from the, it’s usually people from the region.
Jena: Yeah, so if your child is thinking about attending college in the fall, now would be a great time to contact your insurance company to locate what would be appropriate therapists that fall under your insurance category because there are wait lists.
So now would be a good time to kind of get a list of what’s available. And then in addition, the counseling center at each college typically doesn’t go through insurance. So depending on the need of your student or your child, they would be able to access a counselor.
It might be more limited than a therapist, but I encourage you now to kind of contact your insurance company to see what, you know, what would be covered. Because now it would be a good time to get on a wait list.
Ethan: And our experience has been that the, there, it’s just a, I think a, an issue across the mental health field is that just there are wait lists, which is unfortunate because it sounds like this is, this is just a, such an area, to have wait lists to address such a critical area of need is a real challenge.
Jena: And something to make note if you are looking to get a list of therapists is to think about if your child plans to attend college out of state.
That’s something to make note when you’re making calls because sometimes certain therapists can only counsel in certain states where your student is going, your child is attending college. So that’s something to make note of.
Scott: How do you approach a tough conversation with parents about their child’s wellness?
I mean, I imagine with the Arlington School, the parents are generally, you know, generally, are almost always familiar with the, you know, the child’s challenges.
But even in your positions, how do you kind of have those challenging conversations with people, you know, maybe if it was something that they might not want to hear or are resistant to?
Ethan: It’s a great question. You know, difficult conversations, they can be hard and we really try and, you know, put it through the, I guess the lens of, you know, a supportive lens of how we as a school can support their student and their family.
And you’re right, sometimes that doesn’t, that isn’t necessarily well received depending on the situation. I think our lens is always is we’re always looking for ways to partner with families and it’s just we, and we really are hoping that families will partner with us. That it does go both ways.
So it’s a challenge we have sometimes and there’s often bumps in the road with some of those difficult conversations.
Obviously, try and prioritize, you know, it’s health and safety at the top of any conversation and really have that at the forefront that we, that there’s, if that’s not really addressed at first, there’s, it makes things difficult for everyone.
So that’s usually at the, the priority and at the top of those conversations, just the health and safety of the parties involved.
Jena: Or having a student talk to maybe an older peer that is in college and could provide some advice. Sometimes it’s easier for, to hear something from a peer as opposed to an adult, but that’s something else to consider.
Scott: No, that’s a very good point, thank you.
So many students are now reporting that they’re often feeling anxious and I bring up often because that’s a, a bit of a, you know, a concerning word to hear.
Would you speak briefly about essentially anxiety in pe-, in young people regarding the transition out of high school?
Ethan: Yeah, something I think we work with probably all day every day, supporting students being anxiety.
Jena: I mean, honestly I think timelines, making lists, breaking things down. I think big picture things are great to see, but I think it’s really helpful having just short-term goals and small goals and tasks.
That way when your child or the student can accomplish that, they feel good about themselves. And it is important that this is a whole process, that it doesn’t happen overnight.
Ethan: Yeah. And again, we’re not clinicians but, you know, we do work with several clinicians and I, from my, we’re often told is that manageable exposure is very helpful for students with anxiety.
And just identifying, just managing exposures in an environment to the things they, you know, the things that are within their locus of control and the, and trying to focus on the things that they can control rather than the things that they can’t control.
And that, and that can, and not that that’s easier said than done, we recognize that’s hard, but that for students who are, you know, on the, at least attending to college, you may experience anxiety about turning in your paper and that’s a real thing.
And to identify it and to name it, you feel the way you feel, but you still need to turn in your paper and that, and we recognize that that’s easier said than done. And that can, that the range of anxiety that that can create can be really debilitating for some students.
But to provide a supportive environment where they can, you know, expose themselves to some of those anxieties is something we try and work with students and families.
Jena: Identifying coping skills is a really good one.
Jena: Each student is different so identifying those now as opposed to next year, I think that that’s helpful as well.
Scott: Yep, that’s great, thank you.
How do colleges view kids who are graduating from a therapeutic school and how do they view letters of recommendation from those schools?
Ethan: Good question. We are not college administrators, but I think, I feel like we’ve had some, we have, our students do apply to colleges.
They ask, they often don’t want to ask teachers from their public school for letters of recommendations. So they ask our teachers, several of which who have had many, many years of experience for letters of recommendation.
How do they view us and well, I guess I’ll, I’ll say one thing and Jena you could please feel free to interrupt.
I know when it’s identified that they are attending our school, I think it’s through either if they’re using the common application, there’s a description of our school on there, it’s for student colleges to read, is that right?
Jena: Yeah, we send a school profile that kind of identifies our school, just like similar schools across the state.
Ethan: And you know, students often will, we will generate a transcript so it identifies, you know, the courses that they’ve taken, grades that they’ve received.
And it may look, it does look different from a public high school, but as far as how it’s perceived, I like to think our teachers do write accurate recommendations and that the students, the teachers that they’ve developed good relationships with…
We’ve even had some students that had to ask teachers they’ve only been in their class for like a couple months, but if they’ve developed a good enough working relationship with and they have some, something of substance to work with, the teachers are able to generate a letter of recommendation.
How it’s perceived by the colleges, I can’t really account for that, but I think if, if it’s any genuine well-written reference letter, I would like to think colleges hold that in some regard.
Jena: Yeah and the students have an opportunity to go on college interviews so they’re able to kind of showcase, you know, their studies that we provide at the Arlington School, their outside curricular activities.
You know, many of our students are involved in sports or have a part-time job.
Ethan: Or social activists or in some capacity. And how are other ways that they’re involved in their local communities.
Jena: They’re volunteer work. So they are able to provide that information on an interview at their schools that they’re thinking about applying to.
Scott: If a student’s ineligible for an IEP, do you have any suggestions for parents around things that can be done to help support them?
Ethan: I would say for a student that is ineligible for an IEP, certainly if your, if your student is at the level where they benefit from having like a, having a therapist or someone that they meet with where they can, you know, talk to a mental health professional, we think, I think that would be helpful.
It’s a good, it’s a good question. I would say, yeah, you know, all of our students come to us having been on IEPs, so I don’t have too much. I don’t want to lead you in down the wrong path for that.
But as always, we always, you know, support and recommend that, you know, students that are, even if without an IEP, could benefit from having someone to talk to outside who’s not a parent or someone in their school, a mentor or something to.
Jena: Access the guidance counselor that you may have, access the teacher for any previewing or questions that you may have.
A lot of the things now, everything is digital where things you could find and locate online and a lot of the times there are parent pieces, components where you’re able to log in and access classwork that’s happening or a syllabus and grades, things like that.
Jena: So make sure you have that information.
Scott: Yeah, very helpful, thank you. Somebody wrote in, they’re asking, I think it’s interesting that, I think most of us were not necessarily set up for success after high school as part of, you know, part of the classroom experience for many of us.
Are there things that you would suggest that teachers even in public schools can do differently to help set their students up for success later on?
Are there small things that they can do that they can maybe integrate into their practices, whether it’s things that they’re teaching or things that they’re, you know, or methods that they’re using that can help get, you know, their students kind of ready for the next phase of their life?
Jena: I think executive functioning is a huge deal.
So implementing, you know, task initiation list or sort of organizational tool because those things will help a student in their adult life. You know, whatever their next phase of life might be.
Managing appointments. I think trying to implement some sort of organizational tool is helpful in the classroom.
Ethan: Yeah, absolutely. Anything that supports students taking, organizing and ownership of making important decisions. And I think part of managing executive functioning is being able to make informed decisions.
Jena: Communicating with a student via email so a student is learning how to communicate with the professor or somebody in the need of something, how to ask a question.
Ethan: Yeah and having students, I think technology’s a great resource for this too, especially in today’s world.
Sort of managing, you know, whether it’s a calendar app or if your student is old enough and able to do some type of mobile banking, having students assume some responsibility over some various appointments, if necessary, if able to.
Take some responsibility of what’s required for life after high school because it’s challenging.
Adulting is hard as they say, it requires a whole, a whole new skillset that could be introduced in the classroom and it’s, you know, obviously it’s the ideal goal that students will take hold of some of it and use it.
But we recognize that that doesn’t always, that isn’t always the case and that some need more supports with that.
Jena: I think routine is helpful. Previewing sometimes, you know, what you plan to be doing for that day. I think that that goes a long way.
Scott: That’s great, thank you.
So for your students, would you generally recommend that they start at maybe like a local community college, focus on, you know, getting good grades and focus on that transition and then let them think about transferring to a four-year school after that?
Jena: I think each student is different and it depends.
I have some students that know exactly what they want to study and some students want to explore what their future plans are in college, which both is appropriate.
And I think sometimes the community colleges have wonderful programs, certificate programs, associate programs that then you can build if you decide that you want to enter a bachelor’s program in a field.
Ethan: And truth be told that today’s world college is very expensive and community college is significantly more affordable and a good option if your student is uncertain what they want to be studying but does have to, certain, you know, basic level requirement level courses and you have the means to, they have the means to access a local community college, it could be a good option.
Some of our students recognize that, own that. And we actually have several of our students who take classes at the community college while they’re still in high school as kind of an introduction to the expectations, not just of the college classroom workload, but what’s expected of them as far as communication with the professor.
And that’s through the office of dual enrollment at the community college. It’s kind of a good, like, test, trying it out to see if they’re, you know, how ready they are, which is often a wake-up call.
Jena: Yeah. So the next semester for that at some of the local community colleges in Massachusetts would start in January.
So I advise you to reach out to your community college to see what the deadlines are because there is an application process and some require a placement test. So now would be a good time to explore that.
Scott: Yeah, that’s fantastic to hear. I’m sorry, I even, I didn’t know that was even a possibility so that’s really great.
Ethan: Yeah, we have one student who’s taking a class two days a week. You know, the community college classes meet, some meet once a week, some meet twice a week.
Jena: And you know, luckily a lot of them now are back in person, which I think is a great...
Jena: Is telling for a student to see what works and doesn’t work. And they have remote options as well.
Scott: Yep, that’s great, thank you.
Jena: Night options as well so it doesn’t interfere with, you know, a high school schedule.
Scott: No, very important. You brought up executive functioning.
Are there any resources that you’ve recommended to parents before about kind of learning more about this or to kind of help guide them on the things they could be potentially, you know, introducing to young people?
Ethan: We kind of handle, manage a lot of our executive functioning resources kind of in-house almost on like a small class, one-to-one individualized basis. As far as resources, I know there’s, blanking on the name of this place. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
We use the kind of the expertise and background training of some of our teachers, the individual one-on-one attention that they give to students usually.
Jena: Yeah and I know we’re kind of trying to discourage a lot of our teenagers to not use their phone, overuse their phone as much, but there are a ton of wonderful apps, the calendar app, putting in outside appointments, putting in homework, project, long-term projects that are due, days off from school.
Those things start to, you know, become a habit and then, you know, the student will get into a routine of, oh okay, checking my planner and I need to put this in.
Ethan: Oftentimes using whatever’s your, the school’s learning management system is a good tool.
Like our school uses Canvas. I know other schools you use Google Classroom or Schoology or Aspen or just any, making sure that students know how to access and are able to access those platforms to manage their assignments.
At least that’s from the school perspective and supporting them with that.
Scott: That’s great, thank you. So when it comes to the community college versus traditional kind of four-year college situation, how would you suggest helping, trying to identify which may be a better path for a student to take?
I think the question that’s being asked is around, you know, there’s a lot more flexibility it seems with a community college setting, maybe the number of classes that you’re taking per semester, things like that or versus kind of having that kind of more intense workload.
But also, you know, I think what comes along with it, at least as far as I’m concerned is like the structure of you’ve got a full day of classes versus, you know, if you have, if you’re taking one class one day, one class a different day, things like that.
And having, I don’t know if it’s too much time I’ll call it or whatever it is, but you know, it becomes much less structured day-to-day. Any suggestions around how to think about that as for educators or for parents?
Ethan: Yeah, go ahead.
Jena: So community college, a student could still be earning an associate’s degree so they might still have the same, you know, amount of classes that they would have at a four-year school.
So it depends if you just want your child to try out one class or they still could take four to five classes similar to a four-year school. So it all depends on your child.
And I think honestly, visiting, getting the hands on experience of walking through a campus and meeting with an advisor, meeting with the professor to talk about, you know, what would be something that might happen in a classroom.
I think all these things now, you know, as much as I’m grateful that we’re going back to a lot of in-person opportunities, there are a lot of virtual opportunities on these college websites where there’s a student panel and they are giving information on the school or your child could ask questions.
I think these are all helpful resources that exist.
Ethan: Yeah and I would also just add to that, you know, if it’s decided, if it’s decided that the students and families that they still, you know, probably should still live at home, by being a part-time, if you have…
If you’re a part-time student and only taking one or two classes, a good way to add structure is to support your student with either a part-time job or either volunteer opportunities or just something that they can do with their time.
Because I think it is important to have structure and I think sometimes that’s challenging for students that go away to four-year schools because in high school you go to your classes every day that meet from whatever time in the morning ‘til whatever time in the afternoon.
You might only have classes a couple days a week at college and just taking, you know, helping to support them with structuring their time with, you know, when you’re going to be doing your reading, when you’re going to be doing your studying.
Sorry, it’s dismissal here. Excuse me.
Jena: And although, so community college, if a student decides to attend community college, they would have all the benefits similar to a four-year school. So they would have access to the gym, the caf, you know, meet up with a peer for lunch.
So they would be able to establish some sort of routine and feel like they are on a college campus. If they wanted to join a club. These would all be resources that they would be able to access at a community college as well.
Using the career center, the tutoring center, these would all be resources that would be available to your child.
Scott: Could you speak briefly about accommodations offices or centers at college and how we, both the schools and parents, can work and better work with them?
Jena: Yeah, so their education process, different from the application directly to the college. So once your child is admitted into a college and chooses that college, then you would work with the disability support services center.
So there are various names that all do the same thing but have a different name at some of the colleges. You would fill out an application. You would need to provide testing, like a neuropsych, academic testing within three years.
There are IEP and then there’s a questionnaire that the applicant would fill out. And then from there, there would be an interview with the student and the academic support center. Many times, unfortunately, a parent might not be involved in that.
They might be able to join in on a meeting, but the student is kind of directing the conversation. Some questions, you know, include what’s your learning style, what are some of your favorite classes? Just trying to get to know the student a little bit more.
And then from there, there’s a process of what accommodations could be placed. And some accommodations include, you know, extended time. Sometimes that might just be one more hour, whatever the deadline is, and then extended time would be an hour. It depends.
Ethan: And similar to what we talked, we were mentioning earlier for, I believe, for college students, and Jena you can correct me if I’m wrong here, whereas like we provide the accommodations, we present the accommodations to students, at least in the high school setting.
At college, it’s up to the student to initiate accessing accommodations. They have to really be the ones to initiate. Once they’ve been given the accommodations, they have to be the one to go to their professor and say, “I have these accommodations, I’d like to use them.”
Jena: Yeah, so unfortunately an IEP doesn’t carry a student with them to college.
They just use some of the information that is on the IEP and then once a decision is made through the academic support center, your child would kind of have a piece of paper saying these are my accommodations.
And they would be responsible to give it to each of their professors just reminding them these are my accommodations and they would need to do that each semester.
And they would have, you know, a pinpoint person through the academic center if they had any questions or if they were having challenges in a class and they would, you know, help walk them through the situation that’s happening.
Ethan: Yeah, it’s really making, supporting them, developing the self-advocacy skills to do that because we know for some students that’s easier said than done to go to a professor and to ask for accommodations.
They may not want to draw attention to themselves. And that’s, and at the same time we have students who that’s the strength of theirs is self-advocating. So there’s a wide range there.
Scott: That’s really good to hear that some students are, I don’t want to say capable, but more willing to advocate for themselves that are able to do it.
I think that that’s really great to hear. Because I would imagine, I, myself, would not have, probably not have felt comfortable doing that and I can imagine a lot of students certainly wouldn’t want to find themselves in that situation.
Jena: That’s why I think it’s helpful now to encourage your child to manage their own appointments. Call and make a doctor’s appointment, call and schedule a dentist appointment because those things teach them advocacy skills in their, for their future.
Scott: No, that’s great, thank you. Would you be able to talk briefly about ADHD in the classroom and better supporting students who struggle with this, especially as they’re thinking about the next steps in their lives?
Ethan: Yeah, that’s a challenge for a lot of students is students managing ADHD in the classroom. We try and support students by having multimodal applications in the classroom. As long as, it’s tricky though.
I feel like students really need to be, at, need to be able to identify what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. And to be able to self-advocate with teachers if they are diagnosed with ADHD.
Some students know that, you know, they, you know, if having something like even just like a fidget under the desk, a quiet fidget is something that works, that can be helpful. Having a quiet, you know, part of the room where they can sit if that’s helpful in our, in one of our classrooms that might be beneficial to them.
We even allow students to have, you know, acoustic noise headphones that, or they call it earmuffs, they’re not headphones, but just something that like blocks out some of the sounds and some can advocate for that.
But it’s, it can be a challenge initiating tasks and staying on tasks. As far as recommendations for teacher, it really depends on the student and drawing the student out and you know, being persistent with them and having them develop the self-advocacy skills to identify what they need.
I know some classes, it’s helpful for students to stand up and to not be sitting, you know, to move a little bit, to take breaks. In our school, we encourage five-minute breaks if it allows you to be on task for the other 40 minutes.
So being flexible with that and that can be a challenge though, for sure.
Jena: Breakdown the directions.
Ethan: Yes, simple.
Jena: It’s helpful.
Ethan: Yes, definitely. Simple directions where less is more for sure.
Scott: Alright, last question of the day then I’ll let the two of you go. Partnership seems important when it comes to a young person’s mental health.
How can a parent talk with a teacher or school administrator about a concern about their child?
Ethan: Can I just repeat that just so I understand? How can a parent partner with the school?
Scott: Well, yeah, with a teacher or administrator about a concern about their child. Based on the longer question, what I think they’re getting at is I think they’re afraid they’re going to or they’re not afraid.
Yeah, more afraid of being, of having their concern dismissed about their child’s mental health and how it relates to the classroom. So I think is there a best practice in terms of approach regarding this?
Ethan: Yeah, that’s a good question. You know, the population that is our area of expertise, you know, all of our students, they come to us with already diagnosed mental health concerns usually, you know, possibly, you know, several of them.
So we, you know, and like I said before, we want to partner, we want to make sure that we partner with everyone. But I do understand the question from what I’m hearing is if you’re, if you think that your school is not going to take it seriously, that’s a great question.
Especially as a school administrator, I would like to think that we take every concern that a parent has seriously. And to start with by asking to initiate a conversation, not over email. I think sometimes email can be challenging.
To come in and have an in-person conversation, to schedule a time, definitely at to start. And I’m not saying the person who had asked that question hasn’t done that. Maybe you have already done that.
I hope you have, I encourage you to do that just so you can, you know, relate to the person you’re working with on a human, on a human basis, just person-to-person. Yeah, that’s a good question.
I’m sorry to hear if you had an experience with an educator or a school administrative team that wasn’t taking your concerns seriously. That’s really disappointing to hear because that’s just, you know, that’s kind of like at the core of our work here, but yeah, that’s a tough situation.
I don’t know if I really answered your question, but I would say start with, start with a meeting and partnering and reaching out and expressing, you know, your willingness to collaborate as well.
And I would like to think that most educators and most school administrators want to collaborate to support your student as well. That’s a, that can be a tough situation though.
Scott: No, I think that response is definitely helpful, thank you. Okay, so I lied we do have one more question. I’m sorry.
Scott: What are some ways that we can help teenagers understand the importance of getting enough sleep and healthy eating, especially as it relates to being able to function at school?
Ethan: Great question, great question. How can you help students understand the importance of self-care, eating, and enough sleep? We deal with this regularly.
I feel like I had a student in my office today struggling to stay awake. I think students these days are faced with way more things that they can be up all night doing than any of us ever thought was possible when we were younger.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to experience that and to have to make choices. So I do really sympathize with our, with the teenagers and the students of our population.
Jena: I think it’s healthy to have the conversations around what self-care means.
Jena: It could be different to each individual, so find out what might make a student, you know, feel a little bit more relaxed or your child more relaxed and try to implement that in your week or try to implement some self-care.
Ethan: It’s so hard, it’s so hard for teenagers to take ownership over sleep.
And one of the surprises that I even heard today, I overheard was another was kind of the peer support that they have around this saying, “Look, I know you were up really late last night, you need to go to bed earlier.”
So that was kind of reassuring to hear from another student. Not only are the kids up late, but they know they’re up late, they’re, you know, if they’re on social media and doing something, it’s almost like documented what time they were doing what they’re doing.
So it’s a real struggle and unfortunately what we’ve seen is students, sometimes it gets, has to get really bad before it gets better as far as, you know, something, you know, they…
There has to be like some real time negative consequences to not getting enough sleep, whether that’s being fired from a job, you know, not doing as well in school, being late to school.
And especially if that’s something that previously, you know, had been very important. You need to when sleep starts impacting your functioning, yikes, that’s really, it’s tricky.
You know, we can stand here and, you know, talk about study what studies have shown and optimal levels of sleep, but that’s not going to prevent anyone from going to, our experience has been no matter what the, you know, what data we show to them that doesn’t necessarily, teenagers don’t find that supportive and that’s hard.
We fight that battle every day. We’re there with you with, with sleep deprived teenagers and how to manage that. And what I do want to add is we try not to let them sleep in school because that’s really where it shows up is they’re tired because they were up.
And that’s sometimes the problem we have, too, is that kids are exhausted when they get here and they need to be ready to go. We don’t have a place for them to sleep. We’re not, we just can’t accommodate that so.
Jena: We try not to encourage the energy drinks.
Ethan: Yes, oh my goodness! But a little coffee is okay. We actually, you know, we support kids with having, I know especially some of the older students, if you need your, you need a cup of coffee, great, we’ll, we give coffee to kids.
But we have a cafeteria on campus, maybe we might walk over with a kid and they can buy a cup of coffee or a tea, but we try to discourage those over-caffeinated power drinks. What are they, the gaming drinks that people sometimes drink to stay awake. Yeah.
Scott: I had not thought about energy drinks and teenagers and wow, what a mixture that must be.
Ethan: Yeah, imagine you have a student who’s, you know, hasn’t really had that much sleep, hasn’t had too much for breakfast, but has come in holding an energy drink and they already had, this is their second one.
So we, we’ve seen that and that’s just not ideal and that’s kind of a chemical overload, compounded with potential medication combinations. It’s a little bit of a recipe for trouble sometimes.
So we try and point that out to students as far as the self-care thing. Like, look, you’re taking these medications, you need to eat breakfast. The energy drinks are not breakfast, and...
Jena: Yeah, I think breakfast is a huge thing.
Jena: You know, have something that you know your child likes to eat on-hand or something they can easily grab.
Ethan: Grab and go.
Jena: That’s helpful.
Ethan: And it doesn’t have to be perfect. I know some parents are so worried that they’re not giving like a, the optimal nutritious breakfast and, you know, myself included, I’m a parent as well, but we kind of subscribe to the something for breakfast is better for nothing.
Obviously, you know, I’m not condoning, you know, straight up candy for breakfast, but like a granola bar or something with a little bit of substance, a muffin. It’s, we know it’s not perfect, but it is something, it’s calories and calories are fuel.
And that you try and make the analogy sometimes for kids, it doesn’t work sometimes, but sometimes it does, that you need fuel. What happens to a car that doesn’t get fuel? It doesn’t work.
You need certain amounts of fuel in your body to run at at least a somewhat functioning level. But that’s, yeah, that’s a tricky battle we face every day with tired, tired and hungry kids, unfortunately.
Scott: Alright, Jena and Ethan, thank you so much for being with us today. I think this has actually been a really beneficial session. Lots of good questions and great comments from the audience.
And thanks to everyone who joined us today. Always appreciate people making the investment into the lives of young people and, you know, want to make sure they’re as healthy as possible.
If you missed any part of the session, do not worry about a thing. You will get an email of the recording in a couple of business days.
Alright, thanks to you two again, and I hope everyone has a great rest of their day.
Jenn: Thanks for tuning in to Mindful Things! Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.
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The McLean Hospital podcast Mindful Things is intended to provide general information and to help listeners learn about mental health, educational opportunities, and research initiatives. This podcast is not an attempt to practice medicine or to provide specific medical advice.
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