Andrew Vega is a first-generation American, the son of Mexican immigrants. He identifies as gay. He’s also the principal of Bates Elementary School in Boston.

Like so many of us, he had a lot on the line during this election. And like so many of us, he’s still processing the results and grappling with the implications for himself, for his family, for the people he loves.

Principal Andrew Vega. All photos courtesy of Phineas Bates Elementary School.


As a school principal, Vega also has an entire school of children and their families looking to him for guidance in the wake of the election.

They were looking for the way forward. So he wrote them a letter.

"Good morning, Bates Community.

Yesterday our country and the Commonwealth voiced their collective opinion in the democratic process as they selected our future leaders and made decisions on important ballot measures.

The Phineas Bates Elementary School has 7 racial demographics, 15 home languages, and 31 national origins. We have gender non-conforming students and students whose interests align with our society’s gender norms. We have students who open gifts on Christmas, who read from the Torah, and who proudly wear headscarves daily as part of their Muslim faith. We also have students who practice another religion that we celebrate with them or no religion at all. One quarter of our students have disabilities and are educated in the same classrooms as their peers. Some of our students are descendants of the Pilgrims and some moved to the United States within the last year. Our students come from families with different political beliefs and may have different feelings around the outcomes of this Election.

Our school is a snapshot of this country in a building of 300 students. We are faced with the task of creating an inclusive environment that celebrates and honors all of these differences, and we strive to get better at that every single day.

We know that students will have different reactions to the outcome of yesterday’s Election. We honor our democratic values and traditions and we will carry on with our mission to educate, support and prepare our students for success. I am writing to assure you that the Bates remains a safe and supportive environment for all of them. If you have concerns about your child and how he/she/they may be processing the Election and would like some extra support at school, please let us know. You can also read this message from Superintendent Chang to learn more about resources to support students.

As always, I am so deeply humbled and honored to work with children every day. They consistently remind me of my own values and give me the strength it takes to build a school where they all feel loved. And I assure you—they are all loved.

Yours in the Culture of We,
Andrew"












The Bates School community in Boston is an exceptionally diverse place.

Vega says that 50-70% of the kids are students of color, and around 30% are white. They span various socioeconomic backgrounds and hold different political allegiances, experiences, and interests.

Some of the parents of his students were struggling, much as he was, to come to terms with the election results. Others celebrated Trump. But for Vega, there was no room for exclusion, anger, or blame. There was only room for compassion and a desire to chart a path forward.

Students on the playground at Phineas Bates.

For Vega, the path forward starts with making sure his students feel safe.

He said, "At this time that is so divisive, we need to reinforce our message that we are inclusive. And you should not be ashamed of anything that you are."

Two adorable little girls smile for a photo in the halls of the school.

And he’s looking to the future too. "We can create a space to work through this together using the same strategies and language that we always do," he said. "But also to continue to do the daily work that we need to do, preparing our students for the time when they can cast the ballot."

Children are literally our future, which is why Vega's words are so important.

A Bates Elementary School student.

As parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, and brothers, we have to build our kids up, give them the tools they need to protect people around them, and help them understand what's happening.

For Vega, this starts with reminding them that differences are OK. It starts with teaching them how to support and protect each other. Because differences make us stronger, and we’re stronger together.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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