Before COVID-19 caused a nationwide lockdown one year ago in the U.S., students woke up every morning to go to school and see their peers and teachers without thinking twice. While the switch to online school has its benefits, the biggest being a decline in cases, students may be experiencing struggles with their mental health and motivation.
“I was happy to hear that we weren’t going back to school. I felt like I had a lot of stress on my shoulders from the previous weeks in school, and I just felt relieved to get a break,” sophomore Christopher Barton said about the first closure.
Similar to Barton, sophomore Marcus Welch initially was enthusiastic about a few extra weeks of spring break, but he soon became concerned about the length of quarantine increasing with no determined return day.
“In the beginning when it was just an extra week I was excited because what kid doesn’t love an extra week out of school? But as the day to return got pushed out more and more, it was less exciting and more upsetting,” Welch said.
“At first I didn’t really think much of it because I only thought it was going to be for like two weeks tops, so it didn’t really bother me. But then the days started getting longer, and quarantine was extended and it started to bother me. I lost motivation, and I just felt like the days started repeating themselves,” sophomore Evelyn Martinez said.
With everyday life changing so quickly the expectation to stay home and away from friends can be disorienting.
“We’re social animals, and isolation isn’t a good thing for anyone’s mental health. We know that we rely on our social networks to really provide us with the support that we need to go through life day to day,” Cedar Shoals counseling department chair Ariel Gordon said.
Some students were apprehensive about the county’s decision to begin the school year completely virtually.
“I know that I learn better in person, so I became stressed about my grades and getting work done. For me it’s a lot harder to get my work done when I can get up and walk away from it,” Welch said.
When comparing virtual learning to in-person learning, some students are finding online school to be draining.
“I definitely won’t say this has been a positive change for me. I’ve handled it pretty well, but I’d say last year when we were in-person I was happier, and things were not as overwhelming. I felt more organized with my work, but now learning virtually has made me a bit more anxious,” Barton said. “You go from having everything given to you through in-person learning, the teachers are here to help you, but now I feel like through virtual learning it’s completely up to you.”
Junior Allie Chang worries more about the inability to socialize with her peers than difficulties with school work.
“I was honestly sad because we had a spring break and then this entire period where we couldn’t communicate physically with our friends,” Chang said. “Usually people would have a time where they could talk to their friends either before school or during lunch. Instead we can use social media, but it’s not the same.”
A June Gallup survey asked parents if they feel like their child’s mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. 29% of survey participants said that their child is “already experiencing harm to emotional or mental health,” and 33% said that they could continue to go longer before experiencing emotional distress.
Texas A&M University conducted a survey of college students in September. Out of 2031 participants, 48% showed a “moderate-to-severe level of depression,” 38% showed a “moderate-to-severe level of anxiety,” and 71% indicated that their stress/anxiety levels had increased during the pandemic.
“[Students] don’t like the cameras, they don’t want to be on screen, they don’t want to talk. That’s a different and new situation, and these situations are stressful. Some people are just a little more reserved or shy than others, and that can also bring stress,” Cedar Shoals counselor Peggy Johnson said.
While the school year has been overwhelming, confusing and stressful, there are benefits to virtual-learning. Staying home and social distancing keeps COVID-19 cases down, which will hopefully bring life back to normal sooner than later.
“I think what benefited me the most was that I started focusing on myself and my family more, and I got to talk to them and play with my dogs, and just have that free time to focus on myself before going to other people about their problems,” Chang said.
Staying inside with families could cause tension, or like Martinez and her mom, it could lead to bonding.
“My relationship with my mom definitely got better, she stopped working for a few months so she was spending more time at home, and that really helped both of us bond more,” Martinez said.
As high school students have already chosen to return to in-person learning or remain virtual until the end of the school year, students are eager to get out of their houses and see one another.
“A lot of people are not virtual learners, there’s a handful of people, maybe even the majority of people who love to learn online, and that may just be their style of learning, but that’s not everybody,” Barton said.
As students and faculty have returned to a five day week of in-person learning, Johnson believes it is important to keep in mind that the past year has been difficult for many, and that some adjustments may need to be made to take care of the Cedar Shoals community.
“I think we’re gonna all need to be a little more empathetic, compassionate, friendly and kind to each other, because even though we might be back in the building, some of those stressors from the pandemic are still there. That person next to you, whether you know them or not, you don’t know what they’ve gone through, and we all need to be just a little bit more mindful of that,” Johnson said.