The Vashon Riptide is one of my favorite parts of Vashon High School.
In normal years we release eight to nine print issues — one a month — but this has been no ordinary year. In response to COVID, we shifted to an online newsletter format, releasing stories in smaller batches several times a month. Despite this change, the thing that makes the Riptide so special remains intact: our autonomy. As a school newspaper, we are close enough to the administration to get an inside scoop on school topics but isolated enough to feel comfortable critiquing parts of the school too.
Our most recent feature article, a three-part examination of Vashon High School student’s mental health, drove this point home. Halle Wyatt and Savannah Butcher, the writers of the piece, did an outstanding job of engaging with students, staff, and healthcare providers, and then combining those puzzle pieces to create a cohesive story. Reading through early drafts of their article I knew it would shine a light on an important topic in our community, but I didn’t realize the impact it would have until a member of the administration told me reading a particular quote felt like a “gut shot.”
Mental health is a complicated topic. The school is trying to help students, but some are bound to fall through the cracks. This feature taught me that the Riptide can give a voice to those students. The fact of the matter is kids are hurting. A full year in this weird purgatory lockdown where every day feels the same is bad for the brain. Students are suffering from a lack of motivation, higher levels of stress, and as we re-enter society mental health experts predict a rise in agoraphobia and social anxiety. This year has not been easy, and our slow return to normalcy will not be either.
A common trend I’ve seen in Riptide stories this year is a lack of connection. Seniors struggle to connect with colleges they cannot visit in person, teachers struggle to connect with students that have been reduced to talking heads on a screen, and freshmen struggle to connect with a school culture they have never experienced. With lack of connection comes a lack of communication. It is difficult for a teacher to tell how someone is doing when they never meet in person, and it is difficult for school administration to devise policy for students they never see walk through the halls.
I think the solution here is to place more emphasis on communication. One of my teachers recently asked us to describe our workloads so she could better tailor the amount of homework she assigned, and that gesture made me feel heard in a way that has not been common this year. I think the administration could follow suit, checking in with students with surveys and emails. In a year where we have all spent so much time between our own four walls, a quick hello or a check-in from a friend can make a world of difference.
As a student-run newspaper, The Riptide is in an excellent position to kickstart that communication. It is our job, and our privilege, to amplify student voices and create a record of this time and the experiences of island youth. We hope these experiences can be better understood, and acted upon.
Isaac Escovedo, a senior at Vashon High School, is the editor-in-chief of the Vashon Riptide.