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Reflecting on the social and academic impacts of the pandemic with our Class of 2024

The pandemic made it more difficult for Chelsea High School senior Jimmy Merino to get to know his classmates after being remote his freshman year. (Courtesy of Jimmy Merino)
The pandemic made it more difficult for Chelsea High School senior Jimmy Merino to get to know his classmates after being remote his freshman year. (Courtesy of Jimmy Merino)

Find out more about the Class of 2024.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on academic learning across the country from  students missing more classes and lower test scores across the board. But students tell us the repercussions go far beyond academia. Specifically, many of them are dealing with the social emotional toll of learning remotely in isolation.

 

As part of our Class of 2024 series, high school seniors Jimmy Merino and Paige Rowell, explain how the pandemic affected them. English teacher Zeinab Chami also shares an idea of what educators have been seeing in their classrooms.

How the pandemic impacted high school students and teachers, in their own words

 

How did remote learning impact your education?

 

Paige Rowell, senior at Westlake High School in South Fulton, Georgia: “When you go into high school, you’re looking forward to all the activities and events you can go to. Due to COVID, you kind of just missed out on everything that you were excited for your first year.

 

“When I was in middle school, I was hearing about how we have food trucks come up to the school, you will get to go to the games, enjoy game day. … Everybody was virtual due to COVID, so you couldn’t do these things. You were just at home behind a computer screen for about six hours a day, just sitting there trying to get through class.”

 

Jimmy Merino, senior at Chelsea High School in Chelsea, Massachusetts: “My freshman year was over Zoom, and we were practically over Zoom for the entirety of the year. I think because of that, I didn’t necessarily have those social interactions with my peers or classmates. 

 

“To this day, we still don’t necessarily have those social interactions or those genuine conversations because we didn’t have that time to get to know each other and begin our high school journey together. And it’s crazy to think now that we’re ending our journey and we haven’t necessarily gotten the full image or picture of it.”

 

How did the pandemic impact your mental health?

 

Merino: “In my freshman year, I was diagnosed with depression. I had a lot of moments of loneliness, and I felt very isolated because I didn’t have that social interaction that I wanted with my peers. I didn’t necessarily have people to communicate with. It was just a very scary time for everyone, and everyone was going through it.

 

“My coping mechanism to get through this hard time was talking with people and then also encouraging people to have those interactions.”

 

What were the early signs of students falling behind because of remote learning?

 

Zeinab Chami is an English teacher at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan. She found it difficult teaching to students with their cameras off on Zoom. (Courtesy of Zeinab Chami)

Zeinab Chami, English teacher at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan: “I think any teacher who went remote will tell you [an early sign] was just the complete disengagement that we saw in remote learning. It was difficult staring at 150 blank screens per day, because I have five classes, 30 students per class. It was very demoralizing. I know students were in their beds, I know some of them were asleep. It was just very difficult to engage with them on this demanding material and just get nothing back.”

 

How are you helping students be successful in their last year?

 

Chami: “There’s a big push for social emotional learning and incorporating it into our curricula. But I think most teachers will tell you that it has to be an authentic part of your classroom. The thing with high school students is they’re really more intelligent and they’re a lot wiser than we give them credit for. They can detect this inauthenticity from a mile away. So if you’re going to build good relationships with students, you have to be the type of person who wants to have good relationships with students, you have to actually care about it.”

 

What do adults need to understand about the Class of 2024?

 

Merino: “I’m not sure what to expect and I feel other students as well don’t know what to expect, but we know that it’s a scary world and we’re all doing our best to keep pushing forward. I think oftentimes we’re thought of as not knowing what’s going on, but we’re very self aware.”

Rowell: “I think definitely that we are self aware students. There’s no need to baby us as much as we are. I think because of that COVID year, I think they think we’re still little babies, but in the end they have to realize that we’re growing up just as fast as time is flying.”


Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Quraishi adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.