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David Nagel, writer for The Journal, notes that, as of April 20, the majority of U.S. public schools will be closed through the remainder of the school year. A few are listed as re-opening on May 1, 4, 15 or 20. (https://thejournal.com/articles/2020/03/17/list-of-states-shutting-down-all-their-schools-grows-to-36.aspx).   In the meantime, since about March 1, the 56.6M students registered for the 2019-2020 school year are now trying to adjust to school-at-home and homeschool situations.

As reported by the Seattle Times on April 20, “Going online is no longer a choice, and schools have been thrust into a grand experiment that could transform forever how learning virtually is done….Many are teaching over video platforms, while others are sending students recorded lessons. Some are printing out materials to drop off at students’ homes.” https://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/theres-no-roadmap-for-teaching-online-so-washingtons-teachers-are-creating-their-own/?utm_medium=notification&utm_source=pushly&utm_campaign=512284

HOW SUDDENLY MOVING TO HOMESCHOOLING AFFECTS STUDENTS

Carmen Ayala, the Illinois State Superintendent of Education, asked the key question related to how switching to homeschooling will affect students.  “Will students return to school totally caught up?” Her response was not encouraging.  According to the Southern Illinoisan newspaper, the superintendent replied “We’re not expecting them to.”  (https://thesouthern.com/news/local/education/southern-illinois-schools-try-to-strike-balance-with-remote-learning/article_f30b1429-4353-5097-8974-ebbf665034ac.html)

In the same article, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzer said “Be assured, Illinois students are in good hands. Our teachers and our administrators are doing what they do best.” He addressed the impact on high school seniors when he recognized that “high school seniors are ending their years in a way no one expected. I know you’re feeling sad about missing the rituals of senior prom, senior pranks, senior night, and, of course, graduation.”

Aside from returning to school in September and experiencing a sense of not be “totally caught up,” and feeling sad and let down about missing senior class “rituals,” how are kids reacting to home schooling as a new way of life?

ATTENTION FOCUSED ON IMPACTS TO PARENTS 

News media websites, blogs and social media are awash with information geared towards parents thrust into the world of having to work at home AND suddenly being tasked as school teachers. Headlines capture this well-deserved focus:

  • Tips for handling work and kids…
  • Sample schedule for kids home from school….
  • Working at home with kids…
  • How to homeschool your kids like a pro during coronavirus…

The Center for Disease Control (CDC)  (https://www.cdc.gov/) offers tips to parents feeling stressed because of their added responsibilities:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories;
  • Take care of your body;
  • Make time to unwind;
  • Connect with others.

The National Association of School Psychologists offers comfort to parents, recognizing the stress of “trying to keep children occupied, feeling safe, and attempting to keep up with schoolwork as best as possible.” Adding that “None of this is easy, but it helps to stay focused on what is possible in order to reinforce a sense of control and to reassure children that they are okay, and that the situation will get better.” (https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/helping-children-cope-with-changes-resulting-from-covid-19)

There’s no doubt that the impacts of suddenly having to not only work at home, but to quickly learn how to educate their own children is hard on parents and creates stress and emotional duress.  But – what’s happening to the kids?

STUDENTS SAY WHAT’S ON THEIR MINDS

Buzzfeed authors Rachel Sanders and Anne Helen Petersen got interested in this aspect of school-at-home-in a pandemic and published a great article that featured interviews with teenagers discussing the question of how the pandemic-related school arrangement is affecting their lives (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/rachelysanders/teens-teenagers-at-home-isolation-coronavirus-school).

“Being a teenager is complicated,” said the authors, “even without a global pandemic in the mix, and we wanted to know what it feels like to be a teen at this particular moment in time — navigating a new reality of remote schoolwork, lots of family time, and a ton of uncertainty about what happens next. These teens responded to a request on Facebook to submit their stories of what life at home has been like for them so far.”

Here’s a brief summary of a few of the comments they received, plus a few comments from kids I personally interviewed:

17-year old boy: People have seemed to change with some kind of spell cast on them, compelling them to hoard toilet paper and meat. With both school going online and prom being canceled, I can say my junior year of high school is a bit unique.

17-year old girl: “The whole thing’s been a false utopia. I deleted TikTok and Snapchat to try to keep the ball rolling with my projects, but my enthusiasm is fading. Most of my projects were for competitions that are probably gonna get canceled. My friends feel far away. The world kinda feels like it’s quietly on fire.

16-year old girl:  School has been out for a week and I’m already feeling the effects. My sleep schedule is shot (I don’t think I’ve gotten to bed before 1 a.m. since school let out) and I’ve played 15 hours of the PS4 game my mother got for Christmas in the last three days. But I’ve been doing what Gen Z does. I’ve adapted, I’ve overcome, and I’ve been on my phone too much.

13-year old boy: “I miss hanging out with my friends (which seems like so long ago even though it’s only been a few days). I’m lucky to have a fun dad at home who can help me make TikTok videos.”

13-year old girl:  “The hardest thing is trying to figure out the new stuff. Like the new math lessons. Because we don’t have anyone in person to help and parents don’t understand the new lessons.  I feel kind of sad that school isn’t starting up again this year but I have to just get over it.  I text with my friends about how much it sucks. They say the same thing.  That it’s horrible. If this doesn’t end soon I maybe have to find a new hobby.”

11 Year old boy:  I used to hate school, but I want to go back because I like it now. It’s OK that school is over for this year, but I want to go back.  I miss my friends.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The question remains whether school-at-home during a pandemic will change the way kids feel about school when the world returns to some kind of normal. And how will parents and children weather the storm together?

“It’s the perfect storm for parents and children,” says Sam Cartwright-Hatton, professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Sussex/UK.  “It’s not just the fact that they’re going to be cooped up together. Emotions are also going to be super-stressed because – on top of what young people are feeling – parents are worried about jobs, food supplies, paying the next mortgage bill.” (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-51959957“)

Based on evidence gathered for this article, the assumption might well be that, far from wanting to stay with home schooling because they would rather not be in a standard classroom, teenagers will return to school with a new appreciation of their friends, their teachers, and the total social experience of school. One teenage girl I interviewed said what most of her peers seem to be saying – “I miss feeling like I have control over what is going on in my life.” And a seventeen-year old ready to graduate next month summed up the plight of the class of 2020:

“This is one of the hardest things that my generation has had to deal with.  None of us could have expected this.”