The effects of the pandemic: high school

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   On August 11, rather than walking down the famous red carpet with ASB students cheering on either end, welcoming their peers back, Wildcats rolled out of their beds and logged onto their first Zoom class of the new school year. 

   The coronavirus pandemic has caused many schools worldwide to move to a distance learning format; West Ranch has been distance-learning since late March. Distance learning presents its own challenges, and it requires adjustment from the traditional classroom environment. Additionally, the pandemic has placed many other activities and milestones important to high school students on halt, leading to questions about what will happen next. The Paw Print decided to take an in-depth look into the effects the coronavirus has on each West Ranch class, and the overall toll it can take on our students.

 

Class of 2024

   Freshman year: a gateway to all the wonders and horrors of high school. The Class of 2024 is faced with the unique situation of starting their high school careers in the Distance Learning format. The Paw Print interviewed two freshman students about their experiences starting out high school in distance learning. 

   “It’s a bit weird not seeing anyone in a school-like setting for this new year, never really expected for it to get this far,” stated freshman Prithvi Prasad. “Something that made it hard to transition was definitely the zoom calls and switching from asynchronous to synchronous learning.”

   “[D]istance learning is a little sad because my first day of high school is probably going to be in my sophomore year and I was waiting for a long time to have it this year[,] and my sister is a senior this year so it was going to be the last time we were in the same school together,” freshman Grayshia Alcine explained. However, Alcine expressed not facing much difficulty in adjusting to the new learning style: “[I]’m new to the school [, so]  I don’t think it was that hard to transition[,] because the other grades already had a firm schedule in school and they had to completely forget about that schedule and memorize a whole new one and freshman’s minds are clear from any schedule so it wasn’t hard adjusting to it.”

 

Class of 2023

   Sophomore year of high school is notorious for its difficulty, as well as the enormous workload. This year, due to distance learning, the Class of 2023 is facing the situation of balancing this large workload with daily life. 

   “I don’t particularly like Distance Learning because I find it a lot harder to focus on my school work and homework. Because you’re at home all the time, you get distracted, especially when your siblings and parents are at home bugging you while you’re doing work or are in class,” sophomore Amber Kingery revealed. “Adjusting to it has been hard, and I know that I myself am still getting there, but hopefully we go back to school soon that way we can have a little more normality in life.”

   Sophomore Caroline Dolce said, “So far my homework load has actually not been too bad since I took multiple APs last year and we have not gotten too far into this year yet, so I have found myself with more free time than last year. But, that’s also with consideration that our classes are shorter so I can start homework sooner.”

   This situation is most certainly not ideal. Not only do students have to manage their time wisely to complete their workload, but the pandemic has also put a halt to social interactions students would normally have on campus. 

   Kingery stated, “I think that it has been very hard on everyone because we all miss one another, and yes, some might like staying at home, but I know that it has been hard on some people. With most of the people I talk to, they say that they can’t wait to see their classmates, peers, and friends.”

 

Class of 2022

   While underclassmen have been primarily facing a struggle to adjust to this new learning style, upperclassmen must face additional challenges on top of those. Mainly, these challenges surround important high school benchmarks, such as SATs and applying to colleges. 

   In light of everything that has happened, a national debate has arisen about the traditional SAT and college admissions system. Most schools have either removed this standard from their application process or rendered it optional – a decision hailed by many as making the process more equitable for all, especially in the midst of a pandemic. 

   “I’m honestly glad to hear this,” stated junior Rebecca Lee. “For me at least, it takes a lot of pressure off of me to do well, but it also allows people who genuinely cannot prepare a fair chance at good colleges. I think removing the pressure of standardized tests will allow students to focus on other, more important things in their lives.”

   Junior Janice Kim echoed Lee’s sentiments, explaining, “I am happy that the element of stress is gone and it’s just really interesting to me to see how much of the standards of education has changed in such a short period of time.”

   However, Kim also expressed how academic opportunities are disappearing for students: “I see both sides of the coin. The SAT or ACT could be a major struggle for families who can’t financially afford them while other students may heavily rely on them for their admissions. I think that it really depends on where you stand on the situation, but for me, personally, I do think that more opportunities for students are gone academic wise.”

 

Class of 2021

   Whilst juniors have been balancing the stress of their daily school days, in addition to the uncertainty of extracurriculars and standardized testing, West Ranch’s senior class begin  the college admissions process. 

   Senior Maria Odgoc captured these concerns, explaining, “I think the class of 2021 will have a harder time with the college admissions process especially since we can’t communicate with our teachers on campus to help us with letters of recommendation, essays… Staying motivated throughout the school year would definitely be a challenge due to the pandemic. I’ve heard my classmates are concerned about participating in extracurricular activities and working on projects, taking standardized tests, and applying to college, which are also some of my concerns.” 

   There is also the fact that these students will be embarking on their last year of high school through the distance learning format. Traditional senior activities, such as Senior Sunrise, have been put on halt and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

   “It’s pretty clear that most, if not all, seniors are disappointed that our year started out this way,” senior Gabbie Go explained. “We’re definitely missing out on the opportunity of bonding with peers and teachers. I’m sad that I don’t get to interact with my classmates and teachers as much during class”

   However, Go takes a more positive spin on this situation, expressing how she is “especially grateful for the extra time we have to not only be more proactive in creative ways, but also for college applications! It’s pretty well-known that the first semester of senior year is rather stressful due to applications, so I’m definitely thankful for the extra time to work on those.”

 

Challenges for Teachers 

   The pandemic has also had a big impact on the way West Ranch teachers are teaching their students. The Paw Print interviewed two teachers, Honors Pre-Calculus teacher Mrs. Brosche, and AP Biology teacher Mr. Smith, about how the pandemic has impacted their classrooms.

   “Besides the obvious (Zoom call lessons, Google Classroom, etc.), I’ve adjusted some grading practices to be more accommodating to our current situation (extended deadlines so that students have more opportunity to “come in” for help, for example),” Mrs. Brosche explained. “Also, one of the biggest changes is dealing with assessments. I’ve been trying to find the best, most fair, most accurate, and most effective way to assess what my students really know – it’s a big challenge!”

   Distance learning has been a challenge for students and teachers alike, and teachers are being forced to find creative new ways to teach. 

   “I hope everyone learns that there are times when situations are less than ideal,” Mr. Smith stated. “So you roll up your sleeves, make the necessary adjustments and do the best you can with the tools you have at hand.”

 

A Note About Mental Health

   Not only is distance learning having an impact on school life, but it is also having an impact on the mental health of students and teachers. 

   “It’s hard not to think about what goes on in the world since social media is also a really prominent part of my life,” expressed junior Janice Kim. “On the daily you can hear about global crises and knowing so does add to my stress.”

   This constant awareness on the news and social media can lead to added feelings of stress and anxiety – conditions that may manifest in other ways in students’ lives. 

   “Students are experiencing everything from sadness to isolation to frustration to disappointment. The lack of control of these circumstances makes us feel powerless which can manifest in a whole host of ways,” Mrs. Phillips, director of the Wildcat Wellness Center, explained. “The calls and texts that I am receiving from our school and other other schools in our district through the warmline all have had this in common. Students and parents are contacting me for coping strategies, to vent, and to find resources for these feelings that have taken over.”

   This turbulent year has taken a toll on everyone. In light of this, Mrs. Phillips shares important tips to avoid becoming overwhelmed. 

   “My first piece of advice would be to recognize and validate the stress,” she explained. “Stress is normal and can be positive; if you can recognize that stress, you can then determine if it is taking over established behavior. Are you sleeping more? Are you isolating yourself?  Eating dinner in your room? Online from morning to night? Are you sad? Do you feel like you have no energy? Are you feeling overwhelmed by fear of the unknown? In addition, keep an eye on your friends for any of these changes.”

   Confronting these behaviors is the first step. From there, you can take up small changes to help yourself relax.

   “Breathing is always my first recommendation,” Mrs. Phillips explains. “If you are breathing in your chest, you are probably having some anxious thoughts. Do belly breathing–you can find examples of this on our website or google it. This helps to get the body and mind in balance. Change up your activity–go outside to run, walk, bike, or just sit. Pick up one of your favorite hobbies or start a new one. Talk to someone…a parent, friend, trusted adult, therapist, doctor. Call The Wellness Center or a hotline (also found on the website).”

   This year has most certainly not gone the way we expected, and it has been scary and strange. Mrs. Phillips encourages all to “[p]lease, please reach out. It is strange in this time of virtual connection and calling someone you don’t know can be anxiety provoking in itself. I am available by calling/texting 661.505.8866 or emailing [email protected]. You can also make an appointment via The Wildcat Wellness Center Website that is found on the WR website under “students”.”