Q&A with Student Health Advocacy Council

In today’s unprecedented times, students can look towards their peers for support and an open ear, ready to listen to the struggles of going to school during a pandemic.

Pooja Kantemneni, '22, Contributor

In today’s unprecedented times, students can look towards their peers for support and an open ear, ready to listen to the struggles of going to school during a pandemic. My friend Margaret Sprigg-Dudley and I founded the Student Health Advocacy Council, or SHAC for short, to help foster communication between the student body and the school administration. The council consists of members Haarika Ravipati (9th), Bijin Basu (11th), Camille Huxol (11th), Hayden Bortz (11th), Kasey Chopra (12th), and Cole Jeffries (12th), all of whom have worked tirelessly to maintain a sense of normalcy in the school during COVID. I spoke with the council to discuss their efforts and future plans.

Q: What is the mission of SHAC?

A: We aim to protect the school community from the virus and make sure student ideas and voices are represented. We see ourselves as the bridge between the student body and the administration, and we want to advise the school board to make decisions that keep students safe but also allow them to preserve mental sanctity.

Q: Why do you think this council is important to the school?

A: This pandemic has gotten everyone riled up. People are worried about their physical and mental health, and many students feel lost with all the new rules at school this year. This council provides transparency for students regarding the decisions of the administration and encourages cooperation between all members of the community. Furthermore, Country Day is a private school which, unlike most public schools, brings in students from many counties with different levels of exposure. This variety in background adds to the necessity of SHAC at the school, as the council must heed the requests of students from all over the Cincinnati area, not just one district.

Q: What projects have you recently been working on? Any breakthroughs?

A: We have been working on providing more opportunities for students to socialize safely during the school day, through changing the format of co-curricular times and study halls. We spoke to Ms. Weinheimer about classes after the PSAT and how many students don’t feel mentally well enough to have busy classes after a difficult exam, and she in turn was able to convey our concerns to teachers, many of whom changed their class plans. We’ve produced a video to inform the student body of Country Day’s plans for when Hamilton County turns purple. We have also been producing COVID newsletters, which include information about areas of increased risk, tips for safe gatherings, and important virus information and breakthroughs. Plans for testing a few different contact tracing apps are also in the works.

Q: Do you have plans for the future? What are some concrete goals of the council?

A: Our primary goal was to help the school stay in person; however, we understand that is out of our realm. Right now we just want to keep the school as healthy as possible and protect the mental and physical health of the student body, whether we are in-person or online. If we stay in person, we definitely want to keep working on providing more social opportunities for students and we’ll continue to take the concerns of the student body to the school administration.

Q: How do you feel the school is doing regarding safety and health measures? Do you have any concerns?

A: We think the Upper School has done surprisingly well. The fact that we were able to make it to November is incredible. People are not contracting the virus at school, and it seems as if the Upper School cases have come from outside activities (unfortunately, we cannot stop students from engaging in unsafe behaviors outside of school). We don’t see many mask issues at school and people appear to be reasonably distanced when they do need to remove their mask to eat or drink. However, we implore students to remember to clean their desks after class and to avoid congregating in large groups (we see this a lot in the commons!).

Q: Can you see this council taking a permanent role at the school? Or is it temporary?

A: As of now, the council will last as long as COVID lasts. We don’t see a reason to continue with this council after the pandemic is over. We hope that the information we have dispelled to the student body regarding safety and health measures will continue to be followed in the years following the virus, but we as a council will disband.

Q: How do you think the student body and faculty have reacted to SHAC?

A: We think that both have reacted positively to the council. The faculty appears to appreciate our efforts and we’ve talked to many students about concerns and things they would like us to work on. Again, our goal is to be as transparent as possible. If any member of the school community sees anything unsafe occurring at school in regards to COVID, they can absolutely inform us and we can help decide the best course of action.

A big thanks to everyone who has worked to keep school safe this year. As always, be wise; remember to sanitize!