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The hallways of my school have never been so silent. The drama of the lunchroom and cafeteria gave way to neatly stacked chairs and empty tables. Classrooms remain dark, a stark reminder of the pandemic’s impact. For many of my classmates, Covid-19 not only cost us the opportunity to sit in classrooms and learn but also the extracurricular aspects of school as well. We went from growing as a group to struggling to adapt as individuals.
We weren’t alone.
In the spring of 2020, the lives of many people turned upside down. What was originally meant to be a two week isolating period became two months, and then two years. The global outbreak cost lives, jobs, economies, and to many young people, their adolescence as well.
However, it didn’t start out that way.
For a while, it felt new and exciting. There were new perks that came with virtual school. “It meant more time to sleep and less time focusing on work” which benefited sleep deprived and overworked high schoolers, said Ashley Vitayatanagorn, a 17 year old student at the International School of Bangkok.
Virtual school also gave students more freedom in their day. Another 17 year old student, Aryana Raj mentions how “there was a lot of independence that [she] was grateful for” because students were able to work at their own pace and in their learning environment of choice.
But novelty quickly gave way to consternation.
The main cause for concern for students in the midst of a global pandemic was the social aspect of school. Conor Duffy, a high school English teacher, mentioned how school is much more than the academic experience; it is also about social interactions. Many friendships start by sitting next to each other in class. Groups of friends eat lunch together every day. Students are in a diverse environment and exposed to a variety of different cultures, perspectives, and ways of living that may be different than their own.
This is difficult to experience through a laptop screen. Menah Plengpanich, “had a major dislike [towards] online school. [She] wasn’t able to spend time with [her] friends.” Seungyu Kim, on the other hand, mentioned how “[She] missed out on the…class trip,” which was supposed to be the highlight of the school year.
Students also had concerns over the extracurricular activities they missed out on. It was extremely difficult for those who enjoyed participating in activities to continue doing so at home: sports, the arts, music, plays, robotics, and so on.
“Sports are an integral part of any student’s high school life, and being unable to participate in sports has left many – including myself – with a hole in their heart,” says 17 year old Manraj Gill. For many, the opportunity to excel beyond scholastic achievements was lost. The ability to broaden horizons, possibly stumble upon a college major or an avenue to a scholarship was cast aside, replaced by the four corners of one’s bedroom or house.
As weeks passed, the burnout phase began. Some students quickly realized that there were many more interesting things to do than completing school assignments. Motivation levels dropped, fewer and fewer people joined zoom calls, and there was no structure to students’ daily lives. “I found myself treating some classes as if they were podcasts,” says 16 year old Pedro Durao Rodrigues. Similarly, sitting in front of a screen for “8 hours a day for several weeks on end” made Manraj Gill feel “rather fatigued.” The sudden change in routine and the predictability of each day made Ashley Vitayatanagorn “[become] a lot lazier… [She found] it harder to get out of bed during school days and weekends.”
Not being in a school environment comes with countless academic disadvantages. Although she initially enjoyed online classes, Allison Ying, a 17 year old, “realized [she] didn’t learn anything.” Some touched upon the decrease in academic rigor and the lack of preparation they felt. “My first high school exam was during my junior year,” Menah Plengpanich explains. She and her classmates didn’t get to ever experience the process of examinations until late in their academic careers.
But with pandemic restrictions relaxing, the end comes into view. Students have slowly and cautiously made their way back into the classrooms.
“It is such a momentous occasion.” Aryana Raj says.
It seems one unexpected consequence of the pandemic has been the newfound appreciation for school that high schoolers have.