April 08, 2020

Institute offers teens a safe space online to navigate the new normal

Author: Matt Smith
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Thea MacFawn
Caption: North Colonie Teachers Association member Thea MacFawn launched the "We Can Together" website as a collection of resources, news stories, and contributions from teens, school psychologists, social workers, teachers and other experts. Submissions are welcome. Video capture by Becky Miller.

Remember high school? The excitement you felt in the weeks leading up to graduation; the anticipation of prom; working that job you kind of hated, which made hanging out with friends even that much better as the cold, dark days of winter faded in to the hopefulness of spring?

Well, for teens all over the state and nation, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned what was supposed to be the best time of their lives into a time of uncertainty and dread, shutting down their schools, costing them their jobs, cancelling their proms and leaving the prospect of their commencements in question.

In an effort to curb the anxiety so many are feeling now and create a sense of community, the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights has created a new website called We Can Together that aims to help teens navigate the emotional rollercoaster they are riding in this difficult and unprecedented time.

Thea MacFawn, Institute founder and North Colonie Teachers Association member, said the idea was born after checking in recently with some of her Institute students to see how they were adjusting in the wake of their schools being shut down to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.

“The main message that came across to me was that students felt very isolated,” MacFawn said. “Their lives had been turned upside down. Plans for graduation, AP exams, prom, adjusting to job loss in many cases … and so, for teens, it was suddenly difficult for them to find themselves in this situation.

“They had a lot of questions about the virus: ‘How do you catch it?’ ‘What is this social distancing?’ ‘Can I still go out with my friends if we stand 6 feet apart?’ As I thought about their feelings, I found myself thinking about the lack of resources for teens online regarding COVID-19.”

The We Can Together website spans a collection of resources, news stories, and contributions from teens, school psychologists, social workers, teachers and other experts. Submissions are welcome, MacFawn said.

Besides articles on how to cope with feelings, anxieties and uncertainties during the pandemic, teens will also find artwork, poetry, virtual book clubs and hangouts on the site.

“Our overarching goal is to reach as many young people as possible and to create a space that is shaped by young people, informed by young people’s needs and a space where young people feel comfortable to come together to create, share and care for each other,” said MacFawn.

“One of the things that really stood out to me in talking to students was their sense of feeling disconnected. Just losing that ability to physically spend time together is something that is impacting young people,” she said. “We’re really trying to serve as a place for young people to come together.”

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