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Ariela Choiniere band camp
(Ariela Choiniere)

Ariela Choiniere, 16, is a member of the McCallum High School band.

Ariela Choiniere, a 16-year-old rising senior at Austin ISD's McCallum High School in Brentwood, is unsure how her summer will unfold.


Her ACT prep course and marching band practices are now online, where there is sometimes a lag or audio trouble due to a metronome. She is also scheduled to begin an internship later this month and is trying to find a workstation at home. "I don't want to look too childish," she said.

Choiniere hasn't received much guidance about her internship or band camp, which is supposed to start in late July. Recently, AISD sent out a survey that asked students what would make them comfortable enough to return to school. "From that, I get that they might now know what's happening," she said.

Such uncertainty weighs heavily on teenagers, who face unique challenges as a result of the pandemic. They are developmentally hard-wired to socialize, which is difficult in an era of distancing, and they may feel robbed of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as prom and graduation.

"We definitely have seen a shift since the pandemic started," said Kimberly Eerkes, mental health coordinator for AISD.

Eerkes leads a team of 16 licensed mental health professionals, who make up part of the school district's diverse support programs. While demand is up across the board, there are particular hardships among teens.

"They are moving from dependence on their family to dependence on their friends," Eerkes said. "And so the isolation that has come with the pandemic has definitely had an impact."

Choiniere said she has two close friends at school with whom she typically interacts during band practice. Without that physical interaction, she feels disconnected from them. "The amount that I know about my friends is very little," she said.


Ariela Choiniere said that without school, she is largely disconnected from her friends.

(Ariela Choiniere)


For others, it can be more distressing, worsening pre-existing mental health symptoms or leading to disagreements with their parents.

"What is happening now is that, as is always the case with teenagers, different families have different rules," said Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist, New York Times columnist and CBS News contributor.

One family may strictly observe quarantine, while another may take a laxer approach, which can leave teens feeling left out or socially on unsteady ground. This may compound other anxieties, such a fear about contracting the coronavirus or feeling robbed of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

"Not having a prom, not having a graduation where you walk across the stage, not having those kinds of classic mile markers have been really challenging for students," said Laura Rifkin Banks, director of program development for Vida Clinic, which provides mental health services to individual clients as well as to school districts, including AISD. "There's just a lot of loss."

Framing this period as a bonding experience has been helpful for some of Banks' teenage clients. "You're not going to be the only person going into your freshman year of college having had this experience your senior year," she'll say to them, which she said has been well-received.

Parents are also seeking out counseling for teens, which is perhaps more available than ever due to the rapid expansion of teletherapy.

Banks has found that teenagers are especially well suited to the medium. "I've heard anecdotally from some therapists who said clients are like, 'No, I think I'm really sharing some things with you sooner than I probably would have meeting in person,'" she said.

Despite the pandemic, connecting with clients is very possible—and many are reaching out. While Eerkes' 16-person team typically breaks for the summer, six of them are still working to meet demand.

"It's not like the need disappears when school ends," she said. "That's not the way it works."

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A big announcement from Austonia

Howdy, and happy holidays.

I have some big news for you.

Austonia is now part of 6AM City, a fast-growing network of hyper-local newsletters across the country.

I’m proud to be telling you this, because 6AM City’s mission is very much like Austonia’s — a daily morning update on events, things-to-do and news, with an underlying mission of community building in the cities they serve.

If you’re not already subscribed, 6AM City’s Austin newsletter is called ATXtoday. One of its city editors is Laura Figi, who you’ll remember for her previous great work on Austonia’s newsletter.

I’ve been reading ATXtoday every day since it launched last year.

Starting this week, you’ll receive ATXtoday every morning and I’m confident it will become part of your daily wake up routine. Be sure to add hello@theatxtoday.com to your contact list (how to do that here).

Meantime let me thank you for your readership and support of Austonia, and convey my wishes for a great holiday season for you and those close to you.


Thank you,

Mark Dewey

Austonia CEO

Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.