COVID School Year Roundup: 2022-2023

From teachers to students, anyone who’s been to class since March 2020 has had to deal with COVID-19. But for the class of 2023, that connection is a little deeper, as the pandemic hit during their freshman year and turned their time at school upside-down.

“Kids were talking about ‘What are we gonna do after spring break?’ And I remember saying that we might miss a couple days, maybe a week after spring break at most. And then we lost nine weeks of school,” said Cary Justmann, principal of Iowan Waukee High School. Once students were able to get back to class, it wasn’t quite what the return from break usually looked like.

“Everyone did school online, and you interacted with people through a computer screen. That was brand new to all of us, and it was very difficult and kind of a new way of learning,” Justmann added. And even though schools have been back to in-person learning for a while now, the impacts of COVID haven’t gone away.

According to the Institute for Education Sciences, 87% of schools across the country reported that COVID has negatively impacted students’ development. Furthermore, they found that 36% of students during COVID school years were behind their grade level pre-pandemic. Beginning in 2021, that figure jumped as high as 50%. So for those seniors who are finally getting to cross the stage in person, the accomplishment is something to be especially proud of.

“This group of seniors has been through a lot to get to this point today … and I think their resiliency has shown through, their perseverance has shown through, and I just couldn’t be prouder of a group of kids,” Justmann said.

COVID-19 changed everything, including the college experience. “It was a resilience test for these students and impacted their ability to focus on education,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

According to a 2021 Best Colleges survey, 9 out of 10 college students said they struggled with isolation, anxiety, and a lack of focus during COVID school years. For much of two years, the lives of both college and high school students were turned upside down with uncertainty and the unease of not spending time with their classmates in person.

“The quarantine led to an increase in social anxiety for them,” explained Caroline Clauss-Ehlers, a psychology professor in the School of Health Professions at Long Island University. “Interacting with their peers is important to them, and with the quarantine that was lost, including some social skills.”

“I was struggling,” said high school student Jessica Hernandez, who graduated from Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria, Virginia. “Because I couldn’t socialize with anyone since everyone was stuck behind a screen.” Besides social isolation, students found the transition during COVID school years to remote learning caused significant stress from an increase in distractions and a loss of academic resources such as academic advisers.

“I felt neglected because the teacher wasn’t there to help me in person,” Hernandez told VOA, “and there were many distractions at home with my phone and TV easy to get to all the time, while I’m watching online classes from my bed.”

According to a 2021 Frontiers in Psychology survey, 33% of college students were concerned about their academic futures due to the pandemic. “I don’t feel there are many advantages to taking classes online,” said Sam Lodge, a graduate in economics at the University of Wisconsin. “It hurt me academically because it was harder to learn and process the information.”

“The professors prepared me academically,” said Matthew Shea, who received his diploma from Pennsylvania State University. “However, it was hard to pay attention during the lectures when you’re not in the classroom. I was also more hesitant to ask questions online rather than in-person, where I am more comfortable raising my hand.”

However, other students adapted to learning virtually, Pasquerella noted. “Most students were skeptical about learning online during the pandemic, but after in-person college classes resumed, many wanted to have more online courses, especially for the flexibility.”

According to a new survey by TimelyCare, a virtual health and well-being program for students in higher education, about 80% of graduating seniors say the pandemic affected their workforce preparedness. “I’m looking for employment right now,” Lodge told VOA. “During COVID, the lack of being social, including talking to new people, has had an impact on my reaching out to people who are hiring.” Despite a disrupted college experience and trepidation about entering the workforce, nearly all of this year’s college graduates are hopeful for their future.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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