By Joi Bass
As the 2020-2021 academic school year approaches, parents, students and teachers are gearing up for the start of a new school year. However, how schools will commence around the country still remains a mystery.
National Public Radio reports that some of the country’s largest school districts like Los Angeles, San Diego and Atlanta have announced plans to teach remotely for the start of the school year.
While there are many more states who are still undecided about their plans for returning to school virtually or in-person, I found it important to gather the perspective of the students and how they feel about returning to school in the fall.
Before discussing this topic with other fellow students, I had to address the concerns that students, teachers, administration and parents had. The first concern is what the return to in-person classes would look like.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they state that while they want children to return to the classroom in the fall, they want local officials like superintendents to take the necessary steps needed to ensure the safety of students, teachers, parents and staff.
The UNICEF states that school reopenings across the country should be consistent with the guidelines from the CDC to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to protect students, staff and parents.
Some precautionary measures schools can take if they consider reopening:
Staggering the start of the beginning and end of the school day
Moving classes to temporary spaces
Holding school in shifts to reduce classroom sizes
An article from UNICEF also states that proper hygiene practices will be critical to students returning to school in August and September. Health guidelines recommend that administrators should look for opportunities to improve hygiene including hand washing, respiratory etiquette (i.e. coughing in the elbow) physical distancing, consistent cleaning and safe food preparation practices. Moreover, administrative teachers and staff should be trained on physical distancing and school hygiene practices.
On the other hand, the majority of schools across the country have already made the decision to start classes online.
While it is important for local school officials to make the decisions they feel will help lower the spread of COVID-19 amongst their students, I feel it’s also important to take into consideration how the students feel.
Nicholas Grubic, Shaylea Badovinac and Amer Johri published a research paper for Sage Journals diving into student mental health in the midst of a global pandemic.
The research paper states that for college students, heightened levels of psychological distress and downstream negative academic consequences are prevalent. In addition, as a result of physical distancing measures implemented in response to COVID-19, colleges and universities had to shift to emergency online learning.
The researchers examined that the transition to online learning caused academic disruptions for students. The pandemic produced a lack of motivation towards their studies, increased pressure to learn independently, which resulted in abandoning their daily routines and higher risks of dropping out.
According to a study published in Sage Journals, 25% of students reported that they experienced anxiety symptoms. These symptoms were associated with increased concerns about academic delays, economic effects of the pandemic and impacts on daily life.
In another study done by YoungMinds, they concluded that 83% of students agreed that the pandemic worsened pre-existing mental health conditions due to school closures, loss of routine and restricted social connections.
While we know the negative impact that Covid-19 has had on college students, I slowly began to realize that this pandemic has had a bad impact on the mental health of young children as well.
In a report by Elizabeth Miller for Oregon Public Broadcasting, she interviewed Nadia Hasan. Hasan has three children, two who are in elementary school. In her interview, she states that her 8-year-old son used to love school, but now he gets overwhelmed by his online assignments.
Hasan also discussed how her son began lashing out. While she has been able to empathize with her son, she understands that there’s a trauma associated with losing school so suddenly. For her son, school was a sanctuary and now that’s gone.
When the pandemic reached the United States in March, I began to experience the same mental health stressors. I started to become unmotivated with my schoolwork, and was anxious and sad because my routine and social connections were restricted.
I decided that I wanted to interview some friends and relatives about how Covid-19 has impacted them and how they feel about going back to school in the fall.
The first person I interviewed was my cousin Christina Banks. She is about to begin her freshman year of high school. Most freshmen are anxious about transitioning to a new school with more students and upper level classes, but for my cousin, this year is going to start off very differently.
“When school shut down in March, I was very anxious, I truly didn’t know what the next few months of this pandemic were going to look like. Now that I’m about to begin a major milestone in my school career, I am truly uncertain about what school will look like in September,” she said.
Just this past week, the Henrico County School Board in Virginia just voted to start the first nine weeks virtually for students. Christina said that she expected the school board to come to that decision because she felt that it was the best way to help lower the spread of the virus.
“It was a decision that many of us were prepared for. I am just nervous about how my classes will be set up once I go back,” she continued.
Christina said that while she is excited to get back to a regular routine she still feels that it is not going to be the same because she’s going to be stuck at home and not be able to connect with her friends like normal.
During my interviews, I also wanted to get the perspective of a college student.
Tina Carter is currently a rising senior at a university in Virginia. Tina said that the transition to online school this past March was difficult at first but she was able to adjust well to the change.
“It was definitely hard to begin with.” Tina said. “When you’re in college, you become accustomed to being on your own, having your own routine and making your own schedule and set of rules. When the pandemic hit that just stopped.”
Tina believes that while the pandemic did raise her anxiety levels, she was able to overcome it with the help and support from her friends and family.
“Everyone right now is living in fear of the unknown. These are definitely unprecedented times and I feel that one thing that this pandemic has taught me is to really value those who love and support you because no matter what you face, they will always be there,” Tina said.
Unlike Christina, Tina said that her college has made the decision to have some classes return to in-person learning while the rest will be virtual. While she is shocked at the school’s decision to return to in-person learning, she is excited that she will be able to regain a sense of normalcy.
After doing extensive research on this topic and interviewing friends and relatives, I realized that it is highly important for us students whether we are in elementary, middle, high school or even college, to have our mental health needs addressed.
Most of us students are very strong, independent and love to take on challenges. However, with the drastic changes created by the pandemic, many of us feel a level of uncertainty about our future.
Yes, it is important for students to continue to receive their education so that way they can become excellent people in society; however it is also important that the mental health of students is addressed. This pandemic has changed the lives of everyone. There is a level of uncertainty for when things will return back to normal, but we have to do what is best for the students.
Joi Bass is an editorial writer who specializes in social justice, mental health advocacy, online safety and the well-being of our youth. You can follow her on Instagram.