Students rally behind keeping Wellness Wednesday

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Decatur High School (DHS) students sent mass emails to administrators and City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude to stop the end of Wellness Wednesday, a break from school established early this year due to the switch to virtual learning. 

As the new semester begins, many students in Kindergarten to fifth grade are returning to in-person learning, starting Jan. 19. However, both Renfroe Middle School (RMS) and DHS students continue to remain virtual.

At the beginning of the school year, students only attended synchronous, or live, classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Administration dedicated Wednesdays to a time of recovery, initially offering services, such as Social, Emotional, and Ethical (SEE) Learning and Student Center small group sessions in order to practice peace of mind. 

Students used various means of communication including GroupMe, Snapchat and Instagram to spread the word about the mass email. 

Westerstahl sent this message to the senior class using the group messaging app, GroupMe. 20 students liked it, and others responded with approval.

One of the emphasizers of the mass email was Marta Westerstahl.

“One of the reasons [to keep Wellness Wednesday] for me, is that I have a vision disability and this results in extreme eye fatigue. So, doing school online and on the computer is incredibly hard… Every day I really struggle just to do the work assigned,” Westerstahl said, “I’m not able to do any homework or anything extra beyond just the required classes, so I need Wellness Wednesday to be able to catch up on what I’m behind on for Thursday and Friday for each week, and also get a break, so my eyes [can] recover.” 

Just like Westerstahl, for many students, including senior Anna Zelski, Wellness Wednesday was a day dedicated to catching up on work.

“My typical Wednesday is waking up a little bit later than normal and doing yoga and meditation. I then start working on my homework for school and other assignments,” Zelski said. 

“[Wellness] Wednesday gives me the time I need to complete homework and even with Wellness Wednesday, I struggle to finish it all. Adding a school day and taking away time to complete work is going to put a strain on me. I already work through lunch and stay online after school and I can’t afford to spend more time on school when I’m juggling working, college and scholarship applications, and spending time with family,” said senior Hanh Cao. 

Westerstahl, Zelski, and Cao all believe their emails will show the school and the system that they see Wellness Wednesday as a necessity.

“I’ve signed petitions, I wrote emails, and I’ve talked to my teachers about keeping Wellness Wednesday and it’s importance,” Cao said, “I hope my email along with multiple others’ emails will let them see how many people are serious about keeping Wellness Wednesday. Signing a petition only takes a minute, but writing emails takes more thought.”

“I hope that my email, amongst the many other emails sent from members of the community, will urge Decatur High School to reassess the decision to alter Wellness Wednesday for the betterment of everyone,” Zelski said. 

Many students expressed one common difficulty while in the virtual environment: burnout, or the “state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress,” according to Help Guide

“I’ve already burned out and it can only get worse, to be honest. You can’t expect students to be able to do this much considering the circumstances. My grades are probably going to slip because I won’t be able to manage my stress, focus, or time, which I’m sure is the opposite of what they’re trying to achieve by adding another school day,” Cao said. 

“I have a hard time even visualizing what I’d do without Wellness Wednesday because I rely on it to complete work and keep myself sane. I think that adding onto the workload rather than giving us that workday would without a doubt make me fall behind while also significantly damaging my mental health just because of how the work would accumulate with time,” Zelski said. 

Students say they are prepared to take other actions if they feel their voices aren’t being heard. 

Some students received similar responses from Principal Lofstrand and Shana Brewton, the coordinator of the Office of the Superintendent, using Dr. Dude’s email.

“I think I will take other steps,” Westerstahl said. She plans on attending meetings, such as town halls, and encouraging students to keep sending emails about Wellness Wednesday. Principal Lofstrand has announced that she will attend the School Leadership Team (SLT) meeting coming up next week to discuss the Wellness Wednesday. Westerstahl also plans on attending. 

There are talks on social media about boycotting attendance on Wednesday, a protest that Westerstahl, Zelski, and many others say they will commit to.