By Madelyn Tepe, contributing writer
Photos from Mckendree.edu and Google
The 2021 school year has been a learning curve for students, faculty, staff, and administration. Classes have had to switch to online or remote learning, whether that be partial or full. This adaptation has been stressful and sometimes frustrating, whether that includes having to constantly do homework or course work through a screen, or simply having difficulties with group projects due to the inability to meet up with group members.
Most students at McKendree will tell you that they chose this university because of the family-like environment and the ability to connect with peers and professors. With the guidelines to stay socially distant, as well as the incorporation of remote learning, our interactions with one another have drifted.
With the lack of social interaction, mental health is important now more than ever. McKendree University decided to not have a spring break this semester and instead lengthened winter break. Since there was not a break, burnout, or excess stress, is very likely, and the inclusion of wellness days or mental health days has been incorporated by some professors in their courses (each professor has the authority to incorporate those days in their attendance policy as they wish).
When asked about incorporated wellness days, Dr. Brenda Boudreau stated:
“The provost, Tami Eggleston, encouraged all faculty to recognize how challenging this lack of a break might be for students and to try to build on things like mental health breaks to help students succeed. I think students this semester have felt more overwhelmed than ever before, so mental health boosts are what they needed to help them keep moving forward.”
When Dr. Dawn Hankins was asked why she includes mental health days into her schedule, she stated:
“Everyone needs a mental health day now and then. I would advocate that we need one once a month. Our schedules are packed with activities and responsibilities (even during the pandemic) and we need personal time (downtime) for ourselves to reflect and recharge. The pandemic has created an unintended consequence of spending more time online (Zoom, social media, more emails, etc.) at all hours of the day. I used to laugh when I was told to schedule my downtime, but the reality is, if you do not put this time front and center in your schedule, you will find ways to fill that time with other activities and responsibilities.”
While the incorporation of social interaction with peers and instructors has decreased, faculty and staff are focusing on students’ wellness and mental health. Many students on campus appreciated this opportunity to step back and focus on their well-being. Dr. Boudreau even stated, “I try to tell students every day to get outside and take a walk and leave their phones behind, even before COVID-19, but that seems even more important this semester.”
Junior Kayla Tirey is an Athletic Training major, and she discussed how stressful this year has been compared to previous years, especially with virtual learning, cross country, track, and work.
“As a student, having these days helped me regroup and improved the quality of my work when I had more time to sit down and do it rather than feel rushed or crunched for time,” Tirey said. “Having these days off helped me reset and take the time that I would be in class to get another task done, or just sit and breathe and destress.”
These stressors already build up during a normal school year, and with a pandemic and lack of a spring break on top of it, the likelihood for burnout or lack of motivation is very high. Sophomore Becca Hagerman, a Biopsychology major, stated, “I have felt burnt out this semester. I would rate it at 8 (on a scale from 1-10) because of school being stressful with 18 credit hours and bowling every weekend.” Unfortunately, she did not have any classes with wellness days incorporated.
Becca stated that she would have preferred the inclusion of these days “because sometimes you just need a day off or a day to catch up on things. I know that if I am not mentally prepared to go into class and take notes, then it would do me more harm going in than from watching the lecture videos or getting notes from a friend, because I would not pay attention.”
Senior Josh Lazaro is a Pre-Professional Biology major, and he discussed how he planned his last semester at McKendree to be one of his easiest; however, he did not plan for his football season to be moved into the spring semester. He stated that he did not have a lot of stress or many signs of burnout; however, he had these wellness days incorporated in some of his classes. He stated, “I benefited from this a lot, it’s a breath of fresh air and allowed me to have a little more free time with a busy football schedule and weight-lifting times to catch up on readings or extra assignments that were upcoming.”
While this semester has been a huge learning curve for students, faculty, staff, and administration, there have been numerous trials and errors in hopes for better adaptations for our current situation with the pandemic. Instructors have been working constantly to find ways to adapt to students’ needs, and students have overcome a great deal of stress especially with the drastic changes to learning.
While this pandemic has not been what we necessarily wanted for our education, or just in general, I think this situation has allowed everyone to look at the world differently and not take things for granted. For instance, this year it is clear that more students are taking time out of their schedule to simply go for a walk, play basketball in the McKendree West courts, or even take a step back and think about what is important in our daily lives.
Dr. Boudreau finished off her interview by stating, “I’m proud of students who have hung in there this year with masked classrooms, endless Zoom meetings, and no real break, and I know we will all be glad to be back face-to-face in the fall!”