Return to school causes stress among students

February 4, 2022

Students walked into the new wing after a year in their bedrooms buzzing with the classic first day of school nerves and anxiety, the hope for a better year at the forefront of their minds. One month in, those same hopes are plagued with overwhelming feelings of stress and anxiety.

Stressors from the beginning of the pandemic have continued through this year and followed students from their bedrooms to their classrooms. The strain of returning to in-person, traditional schooling has affected students’ social, emotional and academic experiences.

Student representative of the school committee and member of the Student Council, Senior Claire Gallion, said the transition period necessary for students to adjust hasn’t been properly recognized at the high school. Gallion said in the past years, student stress was addressed better.

“Now that we’re back full-time in person, stress is 110 percent back. I think because we’ve had such a different school experience than we ever had; our social, emotional and especially academic muscles are weaker. It’s harder to flex them now. It will take a little bit more time to build them up before we’re fully ready to get right back into action,” Gallion said.

METCO Coordinator Malcolm Cawthorne said trying to treat this year like any other year is damaging. There are aspects of this school year that feel ‘normal’ but there are also reminders of the pandemic surrounding us and taking up energy.

Gabrielle Dean, a social worker at the high school, said students from all grade levels have lost key developmental milestones they had in the past.

“If you look at the developmental milestones that kids were supposed to be reaching, a lot of them just didn’t get to them. They’re supposed to learn how to be more on their own, try to make friends and develop good judgment skills, but when you’re locked up in your house with your parents for a year, all of that goes out the window,” Dean said.

Dean said student stress can be attributed to feeling behind in school work and the increase in feeling the need to socialize with others.

“They need time, because they got so used to not seeing anybody, and now they see people, which they love, but that gets overwhelming,” Dean said.

Cawthorne said this year has been particularly stressful for seniors due to navigating their plans for the future.

“As a senior, if you’ve been doing classes on your couch, or from your bed for 18 months, you have to ask yourself, am I really ready to move out in the world?” Cawthorne said.

Healing from the pandemic, amidst the pandemic

Last year, the world went through a pandemic together, and because of that, student mental health was a priority to the school. While returning to school with masks feels like the new ‘normal,’ there is still unrecognized emotion that students feel after lockdown.

Cawthorne said COVID-19 affected METCO students differently than other Brookline students because living in Boston during the pandemic was a different experience.

“Some of our kids are coming here where there are very few cases but then they’re going back to communities where they’ve been hit hard. Particularly communities of color, which is primarily what METCO is, have been hit harder,” Cawthorne said.

Gallion said another challenge students face is dealing with the lasting effects of the pandemic on their mental health.

“Everybody’s life went on hold. We lost out on so many things like building friendships, seeing your family members and having opportunities like school trips. I think that being on the internet, being at home all the time, being exposed to so much of the news and feeling as though the world is ending is not great on people’s mental health in general,” Gallion said.

Cawthorne said not being able to mourn lost ones during the pandemic has been difficult for families.

“It hasn’t always been COVID-19 related either. I have a family who lost their great grandmother and couldn’t go to the funeral because of COVID-19. So they’re carrying that trauma of not being able to grieve and put to rest the matriarch of their family,” Cawthorne said.

At the beginning of the lockdown, some students from METCO could not see their parents face to face for fear of COVID-19 spreading.

“They would go to work then come home and race to the bathroom to strip down and shower. So kids might be isolated with their dad and only FaceTime with mom. All of those things have been happening and it’s taking a toll,” Cawthorne said. “I’m not so sure how much those things are recognized. I’m not so sure how much those things are actually acknowledged.”

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