Navigating high school can be overwhelming for any Grade 9 student but for those who have lived through the pandemic, lockdowns and online learning can be tough to transition out of.

“Going into Grade 9, you didn’t get the preparation you would have got in middle school for high school. I tried to make the best of it,” said Lex Seger, a Grade 9 student at Kitchener Collegiate Institute (KCI).

She said it was particularly stressful going into high school, worried about the possibility of another year of online learning.

“It’s one of those things that affects everybody but it’s not talked about nearly enough,” said Seger.

To help students ease in their transition, KCI’s leadership group hosted an emotional wellness conference for Grade 9 students, in collaboration with the Canadian Leadership Association.

“It’s not that we’re coming back to normal, we’re looking at what the normal was and improving from there,” said Regan McCorkindale, a Grade 12 student leader at KCI.

The Razzle and Refuel Horizons Conference involved several keynote speakers and workshops, including two sessions from Rebecca Tanouye, an outreach and enrichment specialist with the University of Waterloo.

Tanouye shared tips surrounding mental health, including how to manage stress and cope with emotions.

“Emotions in themselves aren’t negative or positive. It’s the actions that we take that determine if it is a negative or positive,” said Tanouye.

Tanouye said this is a particularly difficult time for students considering they have lost many social interactions during the pandemic.

“It’s overwhelming when you’re suddenly isolated and then back in a space where you are now surrounded by thousands of students and then learning how to be yourself when you have all these other stimuli coming in,” Tanouye said.

Anneka Frey, a Grade 9 student at KCI said the transition has led to some anxiety.

“It definitely took a toll on my mental health and being back in this norm again I’m just a lot happier and just more motivated too,” said Frey.

The presentations also involved school counselors reminding students of the resources available.

“Social workers are available at the school and at the board level. There are other resources that families can reach out to within their school and get the help they need,” said Abbey Gingerich, the student activities advisor at the school.

The conference left some freshmen feeling more empowered and hopeful they will find their way.

“Once we got into the groove of things and into the year, it kind of eased out,” said Seger.