Graphic by Ava Paolucci
School and socialization go hand in hand, which is why many parents, administrators, and experts in psychology were concerned for students’ mental health when education went virtual in March of this year. As kids and teens across America re-enter school buildings with new restrictions placed on them, will their mental state be able to rebound, or will they continue to suffer?
After spending the last six months with little social contact, students and teachers alike are returning to a vastly different environment, unlike what they have ever experienced before. School, a constant in every child’s life, now includes mask wearing, shield carrying, and social distancing. To ensure the safety of students, desks have been placed six feet apart and classes are dismissed at different times to prevent overcrowding in the hallways. These conditions are bound to become emotionally draining after the initial excitement of starting in person school again begins to wear out. Even if one were to get adjusted to these said safety measures, the fear of catching COVID-19 will never completely go away until a vaccine is created and can be spread to the majority of the population. We, not only as a country but as a world are going to be staring down what is estimated to be at least another year of this constant worrying.
The hybrid model, while harmful to older students, can be just as detrimental to younger ones. Respected psychologist, Maggi Mullqueen who, not only has a private practice, but is a part of the faculty at Lesley College, Harvard Medical School, and Cambridge Hospital, discussed the dangers of in school learning on mental health. “Being able to trust others is the foundation of good mental health. But returning to schools amid a pandemic creates the opposite type of environment.” Mullqueen said. In the first years of schooling, children learn to share and communicate with one another in a healthy way. What will be the long-term effects for children being taught they can’t play with each other, that being far apart is the only way to stay safe? To add to this, kids have shorter attention spans, especially those of a younger age. According to Summit Medical Group, the average kindergartener can focus for around 15 minutes. It will become increasingly difficult for teachers to manage their fidgety students while maintaining a safe classroom environment. Learning will be hindered more in-person than when it was when virtual.
A study done in 2018 by the social network, After School, found that 45% of teens feel they are always stressed. Especially for upperclassmen, the process of testing and college applications was bad enough before, now there’s just another layer of anxiety added onto that. If almost half of all students were stressed long before the pandemic, how will this intense situation further affect this trend? Active Minds, a charity focused on bringing light to the issue of students’ mental health, conducted a survey asking about 3,000 college students how moving into the age of COVID-19 has affected their mental health. A staggering 89% of participants said that their mental health has significantly worsened come this fall semester. With many colleges taking a similar plan to Pelham in hybrid learning, it’s likely that these same numbers can be applied to the students in our building.
While, yes, the home may not be a proper environment to stimulate learning and attention, the detriments of going into school for these students under a chaotic and confusing schedule far outweigh these issues. In school learning may prove to be just as harmful as virtual learning as we are only adding even more stress to an already confusing enough time. Until excessive measures are taken to ensure the support or struggling students, we may find ourselves in a dangerous and unhealthy state of affairs.