This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in U.S. education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Today, we’re spending time with a high school senior in New York City making her way through the pandemic, and discussing higher suicide rates among Black children.
One high school senior’s journey
My colleagues Eliza Shapiro and Gabriela Bhaskar spent six months with Genesis Duran, one of more than a million New York City students who have lived through the pandemic.
When in-person school stopped in March 2020, Genesis was a sophomore. Through the pandemic, she helped her younger sister, Maia, manage kindergarten, while also trying to get through the most consequential year of her own academic life.
This past spring, the girls delayed returning to class because their mother was worried about the virus. Distance learning was difficult.
“In front of a screen, it just gets worse every single day,” Genesis said in March.
To help Maia learn to read and keep her occupied, Genesis would record voice memos of herself reading stories. Genesis would often move Maia’s desk closer to her bedroom during class, in case her sister needed help.
“I have to keep in mind that I’m not her mom, I’m her sister,” Genesis said.
Over the summer, her neighborhood — Washington Heights — opened up, thanks to the vaccines. As the days warmed, Genesis and her friends would wander the city, dipping into different neighborhoods with the swipe of a MetroCard.
“That’s why we live in New York, to explore it,” Genesis said. “You don’t need money, you just need to get on the train.”
The Delta variant quickly sidelined her summer. As she struggled through intensive online architecture classes, she found herself sleeping well into the afternoon on many days. It felt as if all the responsibilities and stress of the previous 18 months were crashing down at once.
This fall, Genesis returned to the classroom as a senior. To get over back-to-school jitters, she volunteered to kick-start class discussions and helped friends through breakups.
“As soon as first period Day 1 started, we were back,” she said.
Now, as high school draws to a close, Genesis is keeping her eyes trained on college. She will be the first person in her family to attend, and she wants to leave New York City. Supervising Maia has prepared her to manage the heavy workload.
“I feel like the city is a big distraction,” she said. “I feel if I stay, a lot of people will expect things from me.”
Here’s the full story, which has more of Gabriela’s remarkable photography.
A search for answers
Black children appear to be suicidal at higher rates than their peers in some other racial groups. But research funding and prevention programs have failed to keep up.
Michael Lindsey, who was the first person to document trends in rising suicide attempts among Black adolescents, says suicide and mental illness are often thought of as a “white phenomenon.”
If you looked only at the raw numbers, that might ring true: White deaths by suicide far outnumber those of Black people. Among teenagers and young adults, suicide rates remain highest among white people, Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
But the suicide rate has recently declined among those groups. Among Black youths, it has continued to rise: From 2013 to 2019 the suicide rate of Black boys and men 15 to 24 years old increased by 47 percent, and by 59 percent for Black girls and women of the same age.
Those numbers are likely even higher for young Black people who identify as L.G.B.T.Q.
Now, legislators and academics are pushing for better research, especially in light of new evidence that suggests Black children may have unique risk factors.
Suicide screening questionnaires typically ask whether people are having suicidal thoughts or have made plans to hurt themselves. But one study published in September found that the Black teenagers surveyed were more likely than the white teenagers to have attempted suicide without first having suicidal thoughts or plans.
Tips for Parents to Help Their Struggling Teens
Are you concerned for your teen? If you worry that your teen might be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, there are a few things you can do to help. Dr. Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suggests these steps:
Their triggers may also be different. A government study conducted last year suggested that Black youths who died by suicide were more likely than white youths to have experienced a crisis in the two weeks before they died.
There are also not enough Black therapists: Black people made up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 4 percent of U.S. psychologists in 2015, according to an American Psychological Association report.
Many Black children face chronic stressors, including neighborhood violence and food insecurity. Researchers have found that young people in high-poverty communities are more likely to die by suicide.
“You have to bring culture into this, you have to talk about racism, you have to talk about discrimination,” said Arielle Sheftall, a prominent suicide researcher. “It is something that Black youth experience every single day.”
What else we’re reading
And the rest …
Tip: A restful mental health day
Since the pandemic, students have been advocating mental health days from school.
As mental health days proliferate, my colleagues on the Well desk asked readers how they have made their time off feel worthwhile. Many shared their adult strategies. Holly Roberson, in Berkeley, Calif., offered one for a kid.
“My 13-year-old soccer-obsessed son asked to miss school for a mental health day,” Holly wrote. “He spent the day in bed, sipping hot chocolate and working on a script for a musical. He said it was the best day of his life.”
That’s it for this newsletter. I hope you have a delightful Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you next week!
Sign up here to get the briefing by email.