After nearly a year and a half of learning from behind a screen, students are feeling the stress of school far more than they were before the pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “The school environment is critical for fostering academic motivation and social development, and many students rely on schools for mental health care.” The expectation that students can successfully return to the full in-person high school experience is unreasonable, considering the skills that have been lost over the past eighteen months. Students need time to readjust to the drastic change in schooling; many students currently feel overwhelmed, unprepared and generally set up for failure.
The APA explains that many students lost interest in their academic futures during the pandemic. Patricia Perez, a child development specialist, said that, “young people like to make plans for the future, and it’s difficult to do that when they don’t know how long this new way of life will last.” Now having reentered school in full force, students are expected to be planning for their futures—and rightfully so. However, after eighteen months of uncertainty about the future of the country and the world, planning for college and other postsecondary opportunities seems to fade in contrast.
During the height of the pandemic, mental health problems for teens were on the rise. According to a national survey for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan, nearly half of all parents reported new or worsening mental health problems among their children. 31% of teen girls and 18% of teen boys experienced depression, and 36% of teen girls and 19% of teen boys experienced anxiety.
According to the Intercultural Development Research Association, “two out of five young adults report having at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition during the COVID-19 pandemic.” With approximately 2500 students at this school, this means that 1000 would have experienced “adverse mental health conditions” during the pandemic. New and arising mental health problems among students combined with the abrupt transition back into a fast-paced and stressful environment is bound to have a rough result.
Since school resumed completely in September, students have been expressing feelings of dejection, anxiety, extreme stress and being overwhelmed. These feelings combined with fast-paced changes and challenging classes could have negative effects on the student body.
The APA states, “Among adolescents who received mental health services between 2012 and 2015, 35% received these services exclusively from school settings.” With that resource gone during the pandemic, many students find themselves unable to receive proper mental health care, which only exacerbates the current mental health crisis.
Another missing experience during the pandemic was the interpersonal engagement that students are able to have when interacting with their peers. According to the APA, “Those moments of working alongside a friend or asking a teacher for guidance allow students to feel connected to others, and this sense of belonging influences students’ engagement in class.” Over the year-long period of online learning, students were deprived of community engagement. That loss of experience and human connection will have lasting effects on students for perhaps years to come—as many public health experts have acknowledged—but far more relevant effects on their academic careers over the next several months.
There is no doubt in the minds of anyone who has been involved in the public schooling system over the past eighteen months that both students and teachers did not have it easy. Several key experiences and resources had been temporarily lost due to the pandemic, and they are only now being brought back.
While it can be confidently said that a return to in-person is a positive, the switch from last year’s relaxed school model to this year’s full high school experience has been jarring to many. Only after careful consideration and analysis of the challenges faced by students over the past year will the school be able to move towards a completely normal academic environment. Until then, students will continue to struggle with the unnatural progression of workload that has been imposed.