I have not been in a classroom at my high school since last March. My classmates and I were planning on returning in October, and then that date got pushed back…and again a few weeks later…and again a few weeks later. Now, we have not even been given a date. I believe that it is necessary that we return to school soon.
First, there is a minimal spread of COVID-19 among youth, even up to the age of 18. According to the World Health Organization, “few outbreaks involving children or schools have been reported. However, the small number of outbreaks reported among teaching or associated staff to date suggests that spread of COVID-19 within educational settings may be limited.” If 30-year-old NFL players can tackle each other in a stadium filled with people, why can’t we go back to get our education? Of course, those who have other conditions or do not feel comfortable going back can stay home, but we need to at least open the schools up for those who want and need to go back. If I had severe asthma or a sick grandmother who lived with me, I probably wouldn’t come back, but students and their parents deserve a choice.
We left school in March, yet cases did not drastically drop as a result of this. One of the top medical leaders in the United States, Doctor Anthony Fauci, said that, despite his prior claims, going back to school is the right path to take. If hospitals do not stabilize, Dr. Fauci said that bars and restaurants should be closing, not schools. All of us have seen the mental health effects that COVID-19 has had on everyone, especially the youth of America, whose mental health is already poor. Looking at the same walls in our houses every day, watching a screen for hours, working on stressful school assignments, and not being able to see people that we love is very tolling. Some students don’t even have food at home, while others may struggle through poor relationships with the family members who they constantly see. Only a few weeks ago, a 16-year-old football player from Maine committed suicide as a result of his isolation. He was so excited to be on the football team, only to have his dreams crushed by the virus. While most students do not take measures as drastic, many high schoolers feel a similar way.
Along with the mental health effects, students are failing, or doing worse, than they would be doing if they were in person. One of my friends, a senior, decided to drop out of school with one semester to go. Some students are afraid to speak up to ask questions, while others simply don’t understand the material without getting face to face lessons. Not only is the concept of online learning difficult, but some teachers add to the struggle. In many cases, I log onto a Teams meeting for 10 minutes to look over a short PowerPoint, and then class is over. Other times, we play games. Teachers do not seem to have as much accountability without administrators walking through the halls, so getting a quality education can be challenging. For me, it’s not my courses being difficult that bother me the most, but instead it’s the end of year exams that I’m concerned about. I feel that many of my teachers have not prepared me for the tests in the proper way.
Online learning has caused many students to skip classes as well. Even in my AP and IB classes, attendance has been dropping. On Monday, January 26, I logged attendance for each of my classes. Here are the results:
1st, Honors: 12 out of 22 = 55%
2nd, Honors: 10 out of 27 = 37%
3rd, IB: no virtual class this particular day
4th, IB: 17 out of 26 = 65%
5th, IB: 14 out of 28 = 50%
6th, AP: 16 out of 24 = 67%
7th, IB: 20 out of 29 = 69%
On average, 57% of students attended my classes on Monday, a normal school day. At school, attendance was never that low, even during flu season. You’d think that advanced classes would include more motivated students who have good attendance, but these results prove otherwise. Why is attendance so low? Personally, I feel that online learning is draining. I don’t want to wake up every morning thinking that I have to sit at my computer screen for hours, having no interaction with other students. I’m not even a very social person, but not getting to talk with anyone except for one or two good friends is tough. It’s great to have a couple of close friends, and I love talking with them. However, I want to make new friends, listen to other students’ jokes, and say hello to my peers as I’m walking through the hallway. Online learning has made me lonely, and I know that other students feel this impact too. The CDC declared that from March to October (and months later, things have seemed to worsen even more), the number of visits to emergency rooms for mental health issues in students from the ages of 12 to 17 was up 31 percent from 2019.
The biggest concern related to the return to school is clearly the health issues with COVID-19, but, as I said before, the virus does not spread significantly in schools. In addition, coming back in my district means that classes will be at 50% capacity, allowing for proper social distancing. Let’s say that my class has 24 students on a regular day. Approximately 12 of those students will be in the classroom on Monday and Tuesday, and the other 12 will be there on Thursday and Friday. However, many students have already opted out for going back to in-person school this year, which could bring the number down drastically, to a small class of maybe four, or it could only eliminate only a few students, to maybe a class of ten. Even so, students should be able to maintain a proper distance from one another because of how small the number of students at school per day will be. We should also feel more confident about going back to school because masks are required, and a vaccine is being distributed. It will take some time, but almost 11 million Americans have received the first dose, and almost two million have already been vaccinated. In North Carolina, the state that I live in, cases per day, has decreased after a spike from the holidays.
The list of reasons to return back to school goes on. Seniors need closure, unmotivated students need a teacher looking over their shoulder, and hungry students need a place to get food for breakfast and lunch. I have been miserable being cooped up in my house all day, staring at my computer for hours on end, and I know that I haven’t even been hit the hardest, as many students are failing their classes because of the difficulty that comes with online learning. The mental health affects and educational issues cannot be neglected. We know that COVID-19 does not spread rapidly in schools, and administrators have been working hard to figure out the logistics of returning. All of the precautions have been taken: masks are required, hand sanitizer will be available, and hallway movement is only in one direction.
In all honesty, the only thing that I look forward to every day is watching one of my favorite TV shows at night. I sit in front of a computer for my seven classes, continue to sit in front of my computer after my classes to work on other assignments, and then I have a little free time before I have to go to bed and repeat the cycle. Aside from the constant use of technology hurting my eyes and the health issues with sitting around all day, my mental health deteriorates day by day. It’s sad that the only thing I look forward to is watching TV at night. I don’t look forward to seeing my friends or my teachers, going to school to learn, or going to extracurricular activities because I can’t. Going back to school is crucial to resolving mental health problems and educational issues. We need the choice.