Putting the New “Focus Fridays” into Focus

Nadia Suben, Op-Ed Page Director

As students prepared over the summer to return to the classroom for the 2020-2021 school year, one thing was certain: learning would look completely different from how it had looked before. But it was unclear in exactly what ways those differences would manifest themselves. Navigating the new world of Zoom classes has proven to be a challenge that students and teachers alike have had to face across the country. However, Mamaroneck students have found themselves handling another unique alteration to their typical schedules: bi-weekly “Focus Fridays.”

One of the many unknowns about returning to school this year was how students would receive academic and emotional support, due to the significantly more restrictive schedule. Considering the former abundance of extra time with teachers and counselors that could be tailored to a student’s specific needs, the newfound absence of any such time was concerning to many. The introduction of Focus Fridays, entire days sectioned off purely with the intention of providing students with the academic and emotional assistance that they would otherwise entirely lack, alleviated these anxieties for some. 

“Last spring, when we were online, I felt very disconnected from my teachers, and because of that I don’t think I got the same education I could’ve been getting. I knew that Focus Fridays would help a little bit,” says Timmy O’Hara (’23).

Despite the welcome opportunity to connect with teachers, some have questioned whether Focus Fridays are a sufficient substitute for the office hours that were once available daily.

“…One Focus Friday doesn’t make up for two weeks of school work, especially when there are assignments in between the Focus Fridays that are more crucial,” O’Hara explains.

Before the novel coronavirus hit, the current MHS student body was already a part of one of the most overwhelmed generations in the past century. The American Psychological Association (APA) found in an October 2018 study that Generation Z, the group of people born from 1996 to 2010, is the least likely to report good or excellent mental health. Additionally, the APA found that, of the Gen Zers they studied, “only half said they felt they did enough to manage their stress.” The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened these problems. According to Business Insider, “Gen Zers were already dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression before [this] global health crisis…the coronavirus pandemic is having a notably negative impact on the mental health of Gen Zers.” 

Though returning to in-person school meant a break from the previous six months of isolation, Mamaroneck students’ anxieties hardly vanished. The changed schedule, while necessary to the safety of students and teachers, has only exacerbated the already-prevalent fear among MHS’s highly academically competitive student body of falling behind in their classes if they are unable to fully absorb the content remotely. 

“I think all MHS kids get overwhelmed,” says sophomore Megan Paldino. “Right now, I don’t think the fear about…playing catch up…if we fall behind…is so bad, but as we get further into the school year and classes get harder and more tests roll in, I am definitely more nervous for it all than usual.”

In spite of some of the Focus Friday model’s shortcomings, neither O’Hara nor Paldino fault MHS administration for the added challenges. 

“The school’s intentions are very good,” O’Hara affirms. “They are in no way required to help us with these Focus Fridays but that added thought is nice of them.”

Paldino agrees. “At the end of the day, I think it’s just a bad situation.”

Still, she remains hopeful. “Things are difficult right now, but that’s all the more reason to come together as a community to get through this. And we will.”