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A Nationwide Trend of Students Refusing to Go to School Puts Campus Resources on Alert

By Joanna Reid

Increasingly adolescents are outright refusing to attend school for days and even months. The Education Department said in July 2022 that 72 percent of public schools reported an increase in chronic absenteeism this year, of which school refusal is a subset, compared to a typical year before the pandemic. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, many were forced into their homes due to the nationwide shutdown. Schooling still continued online and students had to adjust to life at home for months. Experts are finding that the return to in-person settings has been a challenge for kindergarten through high school. While studies haven’t yet been done on college students, Diann Cameron-Kelly, associate provost for Student Success, said she has seen a rise in the number of students visiting the counseling office at Adelphi.

“Amongst youth, there has been an increase in suicidality and major depression, so a lot of youth are having difficulty feeling as though they are in control,” said Cameron-Kelly. “A lot of kids are experiencing depression post-pandemic and that adjustment to not being around friends to being around friends [again]. Just having to make a change and adjust is very difficult, so some students did it better than others.”

There are many reasons why someone may not want to attend class. Sometimes it's due to family issues, getting up early, having to leave the comfort of one's own home or being nervous to interact with others. The rise in mental health disorders among teens is also a contributing factor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2021 more than a third (37 percent) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44 percent reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

Choosing not to go to school consistently is known as “school refusal.” The National Library of Medicine said that school refusal is often a symptom of anxiety disorders and depression. One possible solution to get students back in class regularly is to treat the issue using exposure therapy, which is often used for those with anxiety, and focuses on pinpointing what is making someone anxious in the first place and then doing that thing. This typically happens over time.

But when it comes to college students, where attendance is often part of a semester grade, not attending classes can have consequences like having to drop a class and eventually delaying graduation until required credits are met.

Alisha Horne, a senior art studio major, believes that many Adelphi students are having more difficulty coming to class after the pandemic began.

“I definitely see a bigger difference in attendance flexibility with my professors. Before Covid, it was very strict and you had to have proof of sickness. Covid created this environmental anxiety that allowed a bubble to form,” Horne said. “A bubble that is easy to exploit when you want to take a random day off/do classes from home. The flexible bubble is great for someone like me, who is chronically ill. But I’ve also watched my friends slip into an academic depression because it is so much easier to procrastinate.”

In order to improve the issue of “school refusal,” Cameron-Kelly suggested that students need to receive more support from mental health resources and professionals. She is adamant about the fact that school counselors need to reach out to students, rather than waiting for students to reach out to them. She believes mental health professionals need to address tough questions by being upfront and asking a student why they are missing class and why their grades are slipping.

Cameron-Kelly said, “Teachers have to be more alert as to what is going on with their students, and counselors have to be at-the-ready to support students.”

Andrea Ward, interim associate provost for Student Success, said that when students miss class, faculty can submit an alert through the advising platform, Navigate. Those alerts are sent to the student and the student's advisor.

However, Ward said the office has actually seen fewer of these alerts compared to the semester of fall 2019, which is likely a step in the right direction. Even so, Ward suggested that Adelphi students reach out to their professors if they’re having trouble attending classes. “Your professors want to hear from you especially if something has come up that is keeping you away from class,” she said.

As students may continue to miss classes for mental health reasons, new mental health resources may be under way. Cameron-Kelly explained, “We cannot wait for the student to just wake up and say ‘oh, today’s a good day for me to see a counselor.’ We [staff members and counselors] have to be the ones to reach out to the student.”

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