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Senator Sanders holds town hall with Vermont middle and high school students on pandemic impacts

Senator Bernie Sanders delivers keynote at Sanders Institute Gathering
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (file)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently held a virtual town meeting with middle and high school students to discuss how the pandemic is affecting them — and how the federal government should help.

Senator Sanders, an independent, opened the forum noting that the pandemic has disrupted the economy and educational system. Among the biggest issues arising among youth and the student population is mental health and Sanders says more attention needs to be paid to youth experiences and needs.

 “So this has been a very, very rough period for everybody. But I think sometimes when we talk about the impact of the pandemic we are not focusing enough on young people who perhaps have been hardest hit by what is going on today.” Sanders explained his goal for the forum. “Basically what we’re going to do is have young people from throughout the state of Vermont just talk about what their experience has been in terms of their social activities, in terms of education, in terms of economics, whatever. What their experience has been during the pandemic and what they think maybe the federal, state, local government, others can do to improve the situation.”

Proctor Junior/Senior High School 7th grader Jada Perry described challenges she and her peers have encountered throughout the pandemic.

"It’s so hard personally because with the beginning of 2020 we had so much time taken away from us. I personally had a giant drain in my mental health as well as my peers. It just took so much that we can’t get back,” Perry said. “We’re constantly changing and the rules keep changing. And people put so much pressure on us especially in the schools like keep your mask on and stay six feet away or stay three feet away. It’s just so much at one time and it just has a really big effect on mental health and everything. And I don’t think many people realize how serious things actually can be

Bellows Falls Union High School junior Joseph Jacques was a first-year high schooler when the pandemic began.

“I have not had one full year of normal high school at all. And my mental health and my friends’ mental health has been at risk a lot. And I know this because I know my grades slipped all the way down because of that. So did my friends. And it led to a lot of teachers not understanding the students’ problems because they were just thinking why aren’t the students doing work? And the students were thinking why are the teachers expecting me to do work when I’m so sad? What the heck?” Jacques continued, “Also throughout COVID one of the most important things for me has been keeping in contact with friends and people who I care about deeply. Which is why local groups around Bellow Falls for me have been really helpful.”

Students had an opportunity to question Senator Sanders directly and Windsor student Hudson Rainey asked about mental health support services.

“We’ve got the lack of guidance counselors at school. Here in Windsor we only have two guidance counselors and teachers are dropping like flies. What is the way that we try to fix this problem?”

Senator Sanders responded, “Well that is a great question and I wish I could give you a simple magical answer. I can’t. As a nation, as a state, we are not adequately prepared to deal with this very significant crisis. And in a sense it’s what tonight is about. We’ve got to be there for each other. We have to re-establish that sense of community. And number two for those people who are really hurting we need to make sure they get the treatment and care that they need.”

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