The Class of Covid-19: Through the Lens of a Student
January 12, 2022
Words by Eve Iulo and Graphics by Dr. Rob Swanda
Trigger warning: this article discusses mental health impacts including suicide, depression and anxiety. Support is available. Click here to find a support organization in your region.
I closed the door on my squeaky, white locker, swung my backpack over my right shoulder, and gave a smile to some fellow classmates as I beelined for the exit of my high school. Leaving school on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 felt no different than any other accustomed day. Students had grown restless with the prolonged, cold winter, and pined for the warm cusp of spring. However, this typical evening swiftly metamorphosed into a landmark one, as students had received a rather surprising email that brought innocent, fleeting joy. “Two weeks off from school!”, we all exclaimed as our widened eyes skimmed the email. I thought, ‘this would be a much needed break for our tired teenage selves’. Nonetheless, to our unexpected dismay, these two weeks soon became four weeks, then months, and eventually this ‘break’ left many of us out of the now foreign school building until September of 2021.
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has indisputably inundated what we once knew to be our conventional secondary education system. With our public schooling system ill-equipped to cope with such unprecedented circumstances, the consequences of Covid-19 on education has not only presented new difficulties, but also exacerbated ones that were already in place. The disparities among school communities based on region, student demographic, income, and other socioeconomic factors were made evident through how capable (or incapable) a district was in adapting to the challenges presented by the pandemic. However, in spite of these discrepancies, all students and educators endured the residual commonality of inadequate instruction.
With the 2020-2021 school year having started with approximately 75% of school districts in the United States pursuing remote or hybrid learning, being prepared with efficient digital tools became an essential element in everyday ‘schooling’. However, with supply being sufficiently less than demand, only 57% of United States K-12 students were adequately equipped with proper tools, 63% of whom were high school students. In light of this, the primary concerns of students shifted from stressing about their midterms or running to grab their favorite table in the cafeteria, to now worrying about faulty Wi-Fi, glitchy video calls and/or the disruptive environment of anxiety ridden households. Many students often found themselves fresh out of bed, concealing their evident exhaustion with the hood of their sweatshirt. With little desire to speak up out of fear of being deemed an online ‘try-hard’, or their Zoom microphone picking up the piercing barks of dogs, virtual school was stagnant (if and when it worked at all). It lacked the typical charisma found in the classroom.
With our dining rooms having rapidly shifted into being our ‘classrooms’, while simultaneously losing the privilege of undergoing the traditional learning experience, students’ incentive to learn quickly dwindled. School (or lack thereof) was no longer viewed as an obligation, but rather a choice; yet another reminder of the ubiquitous consequences of the pandemic. This lack of ambition among students, in conjunction with the strenuous alterations made to everyday schooling, fostered a plethora of setbacks in the average student’s educational journey and mental health.
As students entered the 2020-2021 school year coming off of both the chaotic spring of 2020, and the foreseen summer setback, parents and educators grew weary of a spike in absenteeism and a lack of motivation among students. Studies showed that high school students impacted by the pandemic were on average four months behind in reading and writing, and five months behind in mathematics. Additionally, the strains inputted on schooling by the pandemic (i.e.; online schooling, lack of proper resources, etc.) were detrimental to the outputs of education. This included lower test scores and meager preservation of knowledge. These detriments not only reduced the quantity of those excelling in school, but for many, lessened the crucial value of learning.
Aside from the academic obstacles inflicted on students by the pandemic, even more prevalent were the effects on students’ mental well-being. The swift closure of schools, cancellation of beloved extra-curriculars, and inability to see friends on a day-to-day basis, all further emphasized the stresses of teen-hood. With the news, media, and everyday life enveloped by Covid-19 and the ramifications of it, students were left with additional aggravations. With focus then being shifted toward what seemed to be an inevitable social doom, surveys showed the pandemic to have negatively impacted the mental health of roughly 80% of K-12 grade students. This spike in mental struggle not only fueled the lack of incentive to learn, but accentuated already existing issues such as suicide and depression. Additionally, without physically being in school, the direct access to school psychiatrists and counselors was cut-short, creating an additional barrier for students’ obtaining sufficient help.
The attitude of indifference that students adopted toward learning soon took its toll on teachers as well. With educators no longer being able to fulfill their passion of teaching in the most desirable environment, teachers too faced a significant lack of morale. The increased absenteeism of students, in conjunction with strenuous schooling conditions fostered a sense of directionlessness among educators, ultimately contributing to the universal sentiment of despondency. In addition to the loss of incentive, navigating this new technological approach to education was a relatively foreign concept to educators. With modern technology constantly evolving, and being a relatively new addition to the classroom, teachers often found themselves grappling with managing virtual learning. In situations such as these, roles were often reversed with students taking on the role of teachers (i.e.; explaining how technological features worked), and the teachers then adopting the role of students. However, this reversal of roles illustrated how in such unprecedented times, education no longer withheld its conventionality.
Through all of the adversity it endured, the traditional schooling system, and teacher/student hierarchy were quickly overcome by the unity school districts needed to achieve in order to ameliorate the educational consequences of the pandemic. Having to adapt to such drastic alterations in such little time was a learning experience for all individuals involved. Whether they be the principal of a school or an incoming freshman, we faced these misfortunes as one. And, despite Covid-19 still being a prevailing element in the school building, the 2020-2021 school year came to a rather enjoyable end. With vaccination rates having been on the rise many students were able to return to the classroom, and eventually enjoy traditional events such as prom and graduation (with Covid-19 protocols included of course). As we began our way through the 2021-2022 academic year, millions of students happily found themselves spending full weeks back in the classroom; masked, stronger than they were before, and eager to learn.
However, a wrench was thrown in the curriculum in the form of the Omicron variant. As the Omicron variant insidiously protrudes its way throughout the school building, the threat of another potential lockdown has become a hot topic of conversation among students. Despite there being some students who claim they’d enjoy a week of “relaxing” Zoom school, the majority feel the contrary, likely pondering “Will this one extra week of online learning turn into another 6 months?”. In an effort to prevent this fear from becoming a reality, school districts have been more proactive in their Covid-19 protocols; enforcing open windows in each classroom and limiting the amount of attendees at school sporting events. But, outside of the school building it has been pleasing to observe a significant lessening of students attending social outings, as many want to wait until they are either vaccine-boosted or observe a decrease in rates of infection.
These sentiments among students demonstrate the awareness younger generations have of their role in combating this pandemic. In choosing to not lose the privilege of in person learning for one reckless night out, a growth of the appreciation students have developed toward education is illustrated. There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequences it imposes upon us will continue to take its toll on schooling. However, in spite of its hindrances and perils, the pandemic has ironically aided in a greater sense of camaraderie among those of us in the school building; allowing us to find greater value in both learning and unity.
About Eve Iulo
Eve is a high school senior from the east end of Long Island who intends on pursuing science communication and environmental sciences throughout her undergraduate and graduate career. From a young age, Eve has always held a deep passion for Journalism, and often devoted time to her school’s newspaper, writing for and editing the political column.
During her sophomore year of high school, Eve found herself as part of her school’s environmental club (which she is now the president of), and first chemistry class, where she discovered her infatuation for the study. Curious as to how she could merge her two passions of science and journalism into one, Eve researched into a number of undergraduate programs, and was pleased to discover a plethora of studies primarily focused on science communication.
To Eve, there is nothing of more value than the intelligible communication of science. As the pandemic has consumed much of her high school career, she has observed how polarizing of a topic it has become. Consequently, Eve has sought to terminate her peers’ uncertainties surrounding the pandemic through both her voice, and now primarily science based writings.
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Authors: Rob Swanda, PhD of drswanda.com and Eve Iulo
Title: The Class of Covid-19: Through the Lens of a Student
Date first published: 12 January 2022