Portland teachers raise awareness about mental health among students

PORTLAND, Ore. — Hundreds of Portland Public Schools teachers and supporters held a candlelight vigil in Pioneer Courthouse Square Friday night. Their focus was to draw public attention to the ongoing teacher strike while advocating for more qualified mental health professionals to help students.

Students like Meredith Gifford, a senior at McDaniel High School, also weighed in, saying student mental health is a serious issue that needs more attention.

“I care about the people I go to school with, and I care about the teachers. They don’t have to be the students’ therapists,” Gifford said. “It takes time away from everyone because they want to help us, and they do. But it’s unfair to put that burden on them.”

Marla Barber is a math teacher at Franklin High School. She said her one of her algebra classes has 32 students taking it. She believes that increasing class sizes puts students’ learning abilities and mental health at risk.

“The idea of ​​keeping class sizes small is not just to teach things, but also to do social-emotional learning,” Barber said. “You can interact with the children and have a connection with them.”

Read more: Portland school year could extend into summer to make up for days lost to teacher strike

Despite these strong feelings, the Portland Teachers Union on Friday removed language from its proposal to cap class sizes. The concession hurts Andy Sorensen, a journalism teacher at Cleveland High School, but it brings teachers one step closer to an agreement.

“It’s corrosive to the spirit of being an educator, so I hope we can resolve this as soon as possible so we can get back out there and do our best,” Sorensen said.

In the meantime, many students like Gifford said they will continue to hold the line alongside their teachers and hope things will be different when they return, especially when it comes to mental health.

“I know there’s a lot of concern that the strike is going to affect that and it’s going to increase,” Gifford said. “But I think it’s important that students get the support they need in order for us to actually be in school.”

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