Over the past 150 years, our world and our country have grown into a reality past generations only dreamed of, but our country’s approach to the school system has not seen the same change. Interestingly, it took COVID-19, and the quarantine that followed, for schools to adjust their approach.
In reaction to the pandemic, people everywhere have had to change their approach to life, but schools have had to uncover new ways to teach and students have had to adjust to new circumstances to learn. Needless to say, this has come with its struggles and successes, but as schools attempt new approaches, administrators should frequently check in with students in order to grasp the effects of such methods and continue what works, modify what doesn’t.
Carla Carino, my social studies teacher at North High School, did precisely this when she required her students to gather feedback from students, parents, and teachers at North and combine it with online research to uncover concerns about online learning, create solutions, and present our findings. We concluded that online learning makes it challenging to stay engaged and motivated, difficult for students to communicate with their peers and teachers, and stressed to complete assignments. More than anything, it was the mental health of students that grappled with the combination of quarantine and online school.
We created a survey to get feedback about online school and received responses from 124 of our peers at North. 83.7% believe that school isn’t as engaging and they aren’t learning as much. 74.5% miss seeing their friends and 49.2% reported needing more help from teachers. Despite the great lengths our school has gone to provide students with access to the internet and to create flexibility, some barriers of quarantine can’t be easily broken. It is clear that isolation has caused many teenagers to feel depressed and creating excitement for school through a computer screen isn’t as simple as you may think. According to a national survey of about 3,300 students, “More than 1 in 4 young people reported an increase in losing sleep because of worry, feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, or experiencing a loss of confidence in themselves.”
This revealed that there is a connection between someone’s capacity to learn and their mental health. One cannot learn the material if they do not attend class, but they’ll have trouble going to class if they struggle with finding the motivation to. School is intended to help young minds grow which must include the wellbeing of the mind.
So we suggested that North should prioritize mental health rather than a workload, which could cause students to feel more relaxed, therefore improving grades because students would be able to think more clearly and take time to understand what they are studying. We suggested asynchronous Fridays (a day dedicated to completing the work we were already assigned), and creation of clubs in order for students to reconnect with each other and strengthen our community. We also suggested flexible assignment dates and shortening workloads to allow students to get extra support when they need it and decrease stress amongst students. Finally, to strengthen communication by providing text communication between students and teachers, frequently checking in with students -especially those who may be struggling- to create an open environment in which students feel more comfortable to ask the questions they need to, and request any help they may need for their wellbeing.
Online school is a challenge all students, teachers, and administrators have had to face, but also one we can overcome. By finding solutions to ease some of the struggles we are facing during such an uncertain time, we are growing as a community and as people. We are learning that there are alternatives to how schools typically teach and to prioritize mental health when it comes to schooling. As a community, we have been presented with an opportunity for growth, and with the lessons we learn, we will only turn out stronger, smarter, and more fulfilled.
Jade DeSandoval is a Junior at North High School