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Some Alberta students 'excited' for mental health boost that comes with classes resuming

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After almost two years of unpredictable schedules and inconsistent learning methods, experts believe many Alberta students are set for a mental health boost when bells ring Monday morning.

Some students couldn't agree more.

Classes are set to resume after an extended holiday break due surging COVID-19 numbers.

"What I hear so often from teens is that they're tired, or not motivated," youth life coach and registered psychologist Chantal Côté said. "It is still really important for them to have access to social connections, to have access to recreation and interests and to figure out who they are. It's part of their development."

After being away from her friends and many extracurricular activities for the better part of a month, grade 11 student Heeva Hodaie agrees.

She says it's been difficult to find consistency with the plethora of pandemic education changes.

"I personally was not a fan of online learning," she told CTV News. "I've never had a proper year of high school, I guess, with COVID. Things are always changing and it's definitely just been really confusing. Honestly, it has taken a toll on my mental health and I'm sure it has with a lot of other students."

Hodaie says she's excited to go back to class on Monday. It's an environment that's expected to help thousands.

"(School closures) kind of had this blanket effect of adding to the health effects of COVID," psychologist Dr. Kelly Schwartz said. "It was all the stuff that went on around this that really impacted students' functioning."

New research Schwartz worked on looks at the impact of the pandemic on 1,200 students in the province's four biggest school divisions.

The work tracked kids in both Calgary and Edmonton as they entered and exited class from September 2020 to the autumn.

"For about three in ten youth, things are not great," Schwartz said. "Their stress reactions are pretty high, their sadness and worry levels are high. Schools represent this kind of social hub that is really important."

Schwartz is hesitant to compare today's youth mental health levels with prior generations due to a lack of comprehensive historical data, but does say he feels as though current-day students have somewhat fallen behind thanks to the virus.

His research shows older teens and females have had their functioning levels hit especially hard.

And while experts agree that health measures are important for physical health, there is something to be said for the time spent at a desk around other people.

Hodaie says she's just lucky to have taken something away from the tough stretch.

"I think I've just really learned that I am able to take change," she said. "Change is good sometimes."

Any students seeking support with mental health challenges on the return to classes is advised to reach out to services such as the Calgary Counselling Centre.

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