I am Kaden Piel, a 15-year-old student at Merino High School, a small town located in northeastern Colorado. I am writing this as a request for help to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and Governor Jared Polis.
As I look into the many responsibilities of a leader and advisor in this time, I understand the difficult and controversial decisions that must be made every day in the face of the public, especially in the time of COVID. You do your best to recognize many people’s best interests. I do, however, believe you are missing a vital sector of our population, and that is our teenage and high school citizens of Colorado. The policies put in place by you, our leaders, have stopped and disabled students from participating in many of the things that they know, need, and love. Basically, all extracurricular activities have been shut down. We are learning at a young age that in life you rarely know how badly you need something until it is gone.
In the past ten months, teenagers’ mental health has declined immensely. A recent study released by the CDC revealed that one out of five students has or is seriously considering attempting suicide. This is the most frightening number I’ve seen for my demographic since the beginning of COVID. In the past six months, there have been seven, SEVEN, teen suicides in my region. One of these hit tragically close to home at my own school.
Pairing with this data, there have been zero teen deaths caused by COVID in my region. I now ask you, what is the real pandemic among teens? I feel our voices must be heard and immediate changes must be made. Many teens feel they have nothing left to live for because well-intentioned adults keep jerking the rug out from under our feet. We work hard to prepare for our speech competition to have it go virtual. We spend endless nights at play practice to have it end with delivery to an empty theatre. Homecoming? Canceled. Our sporting events? Canceled or delayed. Science fairs? Virtual only. The list goes on and on. Why are we losing everything, when this virus isn’t a sliver of a percentage of risk to us? Many of us don’t even know what we’re missing, just that something is missing in our lives.
I consider myself very fortunate. I have two parents at home every night. They work hard to keep opportunities in front of me. We live on a farm and when I don’t have school events there is usually something happening around the farm to keep me entertained and occupied. I also have two sisters that I love dearly and we can get through a lot of tumultuous times together as well. Many I know are not so lucky. For many, their teams or clubs are their families. For many, their coach is not just their coach but also a father figure or a role model. Our communities praise us for our accomplishments and in turn, we strive to make our communities proud. We are so much stronger when we have someone who believes in us.
You need to understand us before you make decisions for us. Your generation grew up and required different things than we require. As a freshman who participated in football, I learned things that can not be taught in a classroom. This includes life lessons, how to be a leader, what it means to be a team, and the comradery of a nontraditional family. I have a cousin who is practically a sister to me. She has not been able to participate in any high school activities and doesn’t understand why. Give us the reason. COVID? That is what we have been hearing since March. Explain to us why teenagers, who have the lowest mortality rate, aren’t allowed to participate in their activities.
What are you giving us? We aren’t able to go to the gym or to our clubs. Students feel like nobody cares and nobody understands what they are going through. It is so hard to watch people 30 minutes north of us in Nebraska do everything normally and as if COVID had never existed. All high school events are business as usual. This includes sports, clubs, and organizations.
I would give up every sport, club, and organization to have my friend back, but I truly believe the best way to protect the friends I have left is to participate in the things we know and love together. Please, PLEASE, allow us to do the things that we did Pre-COVID. Help us decrease the suicide rate, give teenagers something to live and look forward to. This is a matter of life and death. People are dying because of choices made that are meant to protect us. I beg of you, allow us to do things as we did. We need a new normal!
Kaden Piel is a freshman at Merino Jr/Sr High School in Logan County.