By Madison Fernandez
A year of shutdowns has forced many people to recreate their daily work and educational lives to protect themselves from coronavirus infections. But what to do when you’re a high school activity director and learning has become a thing of the past?
That was the challenge for Matthew Leduc, who spent the last school year – a time of social distancing, masks, Zoom reunions, and low morale for students – as Director of Activities at South Hills High School in West Covina.
He started on Thursday, July 1 as the new assistant manager of Covina High, but this past year may well be the most difficult of his career.
“The end of September came and we had no vaccine, no plan, but we had a new group of leaders to get a new angle for the new year,” said Leduc. Their task: “What’s the best way to get there when no one is happy or motivated for school?” “
Leduc could see that most of his students were not motivated for school. Soaking up the high school culture wasn’t a concern for them, so he took the opportunity to work on inner growth with his student government class, he said.
Typically in the first semester, her class was preparing for big school events, such as homecoming gatherings and soccer games. Instead, he and the student body presidents planned each week how to help students grow as leaders.
The focus shifted from school events to the mental health and well-being of the classroom, particularly after January of this year when cases of COVID-19 started to increase and many students felt hopeless and demotivated, Leduc said.
He partnered with counselors at South Hills High and the school psychiatrist to develop a program they called “Cope,” an online portal where students could participate in online sessions and let off steam, relax. comfort and talk about whatever they felt comfortable sharing.
Research shows that many students depend on a typical school environment for motivation and social development, as well as mental health support, according to a study published in October by the American Psychological Association.
As vice president of the student body, Melissa Venegas “was really nervous this year, not only because I had never been in a position like this, but because I was trying to overcome personal obstacles,” said she declared.
“Leduc leaves [the student body president] and I know he trusted us with all the decisions that we made, which I would say has helped us to have more confidence in ourselves and allowed us to overcome the situations that we face.
Students could participate in the Cope program anonymously if they wished. And rather than being watched by adults, other Associated Student Body students have taken the lead. This setup attracted as many as 75 to 100 students in each session, improving students’ mental health when they realized they had another friend who made them feel less alone, Leduc said.
At the end of the semester, some of the more traditional activities returned to the schedule. As California slowly eased restrictions, Leduc and some of his ASB students were able to enter the campus. The kids arrived every day, masked and excited to experience the last part of their school year – “making posters, having dance practices,” Leduc said.
“Even though it wasn’t at full capacity that we would have liked, I think everyone was still excited that things were getting a little bit back to normal.”
Looking ahead to his new role, Leduc hopes “to have the same impact with the students at Covina that I had with the students at South Hills,” he said via email.
Fernandez is a journalism student at Pasadena City College. Matthew Leduc was his teacher in high school.