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‘Kids are hurting right now’: Forum on teen mental health in the pandemic slated for next week

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 1, 2021

Students should be feeling better now. They’re back in class in class, walking the halls and playing sports, doing what kids do.

And yet they’re not, according to several education leaders in Eastern Washington.

“Kids are hurting right now, and they’re feeling lonely and depressed,” said Jim Kowalkowski, superintendent of the Davenport School District.

They’re also not being heard by state leaders, said Kowalkowski, who has joined with Reardan-Edwall Superintendent Eric Sobotta to host a virtual town hall next week that’s intended to add students to the conversation around the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, the hourlong event will be led by Dr. Kira Mauseth, co-lead of the Behavioral Health Strike Team for the Washington State Department of Health.

As of Wednesday, representatives from more than 20 school districts have signed up to participate.

The four student speakers will include two from Reardan-Edwall and one each from Davenport and Granite Falls.

“We are in the middle of a mental health crisis,” Sobotta said. “As we try to respond as educators and state officials, it is paramount that we listen to our young adults.

“The goal of this hour with Dr. Mauseth is to try to better understand how the pandemic is affecting our students and also to listen to the different ideas they may have for how we can best support them.”

Both superintendents say they’ve witnessed a spike in depression among students, especially at the secondary level.

At Reardan-Edwall, the district conducted a survey last spring that found about half the students said they felt depressed or severely depressed.

Sobotta believes a new survey would reveal that the situation has worsened.

Some students may be disillusioned after experiencing a false sense of security last summer as COVID metrics declined.

Mauseth said just that recently in an interview with Seattle Met magazine.

“What we saw this summer was people on a solid yellow line pathway, feeling great,” said Mauseth, who also is a senior instructor of psychology at Seattle University.

“And then delta hit.”

Since then, Mauseth said some people are in better spirits while others have struggled with anxiety and depression associated with earlier stages of the pandemic.

Not far beneath the surface is the issue of masks and their effect on the students’ mental health.

Kowalkowski said he’d like to see data that pertains to rural areas.

“We’ve done a lot of work to meet all the health and safety rules, and with masking it feels like kids have been doing this for two years,” Kowalkowski said.

Kids have been put in a tough spot, Sobotta said.

“The unfortunate thing is that the adults have made this a political thing on both sides of the political aisle, and kids are caught in middle,” Sobotta said.

To have your class participate, email A link to participate will be sent several days before the forum.

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