Detroit Students Discuss Needs for Upcoming School Year
As school districts across Michigan continue to grapple with how to safely welcome students back to classrooms this fall, a group of Detroit students ─ directly connected to our community of philanthropy ─shared their feelings on the 2021-2022 school year and how educators, leaders and philanthropy can help.
The Skillman Foundation’s President’s Youth Council began last December and consists of 13 young people (ages 12-22) from Detroit. Council members meet regularly with foundation leadership to discuss issues that are important to them and advise how the foundation and its partners can better support their needs and aspirations.
Moderated by council member Lamont Satchel, Jr., a graduate of Detroit’s Cass Tech High School and current freshman at Morehouse College, the panel discussed the challenges and opportunities of virtual schooling and the needs of students to feel safe and comfortable returning to classrooms in 2021. Panelists included Mathias Neloms (middle school student) and Mosammad Jahan and Willyne Smith (rising seniors).
Satchel kicked off the event by asking panelists what their biggest hope was for the upcoming school year.
“My biggest hope for the school year would be to proceed as much as we can without interruption and to do the best that we can under the current circumstances,” Smith said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my friends in-person again and learning in-person,” Neloms added.
The panelists went on to discuss the challenges of virtual learning in the last school year, including limited access to technology and unfamiliarity with technology for both students and teachers.
“Our schools were never designed for virtual learning,” Jahan said. “But given the short time that they had, I think they did a good job adapting—at least my school did.”
A central theme of the conversation was mental health, particularly what schools could do to help students readjust to in-person learning while caring for their mental well-being. Panelists shared what their schools did to support students’ social and emotional health and what they think schools can do in the upcoming year to continue that trend.
“In my school, we had a therapist and we would focus on different topics each month for an hour,” Jahan said. “I think that was really effective and that other schools should implement that, too…and overall, just have mental health resources available in schools.”
“A lot of the mental health crises that happened over the last year were caused by our social isolation,” Smith added. “I think we should invest in talking to each other more. I think that was kind of inherent when we were on campus because we were surrounded by hundreds of people at a time. But in virtual learning, you kind of just mute yourself while the teacher gives the lesson and you log off.”
Satchel added his own experiences to the conversation.
“I feel like something I heard a lot—especially in middle and high schools—is, ‘You’re a kid, what do you have to be stressed about?’” he said. “But you have to understand what mental health and self-care look like in school and outside the school setting. We—both kids and adults—hear, ‘You have to leave that at home; you can’t let your problems affect your work or your schooling.’ But the reality is that you can’t.”
The panel also emphasized the importance of youth voice and input not only in school consideration, but also in philanthropy’s work.
“Once we are in positions of power or are at least once we have our voices and opinions heard, I don’t think it would be that hard to put [changes] in place,” Smith said.