lifeatCSUS

A Pandemic School Year: The Students’ Perspective

By Ally A. ’23

As the 2020-21 school year draws to a close, COVID-19 restrictions ease, and there is finally a visible light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it is astounding to think of just how unique and unprecedented the last school year has been. Across the country and world, students have had to adapt to learning in an online format, the lack of a traditional social and classroom environment, and their concentration, academic performance, and mental wellbeing has been tested immensely. To learn of the effects of the hybrid model on Crystal students, Gryphon Gazette surveyed the student body in order to discover statistics, perspectives, and notable experiences from the pandemic school year. 

A major area of interest were the effects of in person versus remote schooling on students’ sleep and energy levels. Out of the students surveyed, the average amount of sleep to get on a remote school night was nine hours, contrasted with seven hours on an in person school night. 88% of students reported feeling more tired physically after an in person school day than a remote one, while 67% said they felt more tired mentally after a Zoom day. Research backs up these feelings. According to the National Education Association, communication on a video call is not in real time, which affects the subconscious brain and does not trigger the production of dopamine or allow the brain to pick up body language or other social cues. This can lead to real feelings of mental exhaustion, fatigue, and anxiety, which affects students’ engagement and attention in online classes. However, many students noted the benefits of remote school days on sleep. One Crystal junior asserted that remote days allowed students to sleep for significantly longer owing to not needing to wake up early to get ready for school, which was reported as a perk of remote learning for many students. 

In terms of class engagement, on a scale of one to ten, the average number reported for engagement with Zoom classes from the survey participants was a five. Many described feeling a lack of motivation, a struggle to pay attention, and an overall decrease in their participation during remote learning, factors which affected academic performance. In contrast, the average number selected for engagement with in person classes was a nine. One freshman reported feeling much more appreciative of the chance to come to in person school after months of distance learning, and a senior also affirmed that being able to return to campus had a significantly positive impact on her mental health. In general, many shared positive experiences and effects of in person learning on their class engagement, opportunities for social connection, and resulting academic performance. 

However, after a hybrid year, students across grades also reported feelings of fatigue when returning to school in person after the time online. One freshman shared that the experience of in person schooling was now much more tiring due to students not being accustomed to it, and a sophomore disclosed that they actually enjoyed DLP in moderation and would recommend a few online days being sprinkled into next year’s schedule to balance the demands of in person school. Several students wrote that they found remote Mondays relaxing and productive and would enjoy their implementation going forward. 

Despite the unique challenges faced in such a year, many still reported positive experiences with teachers, classes, and extracurriculars. Over 87% of students said that they felt they had been able to form meaningful connections with their teachers and classmates this year. A sophomore wrote, “I really appreciate how teachers have handled virtual learning and [have been] available often before/after school and during office hours to be there for students and [have had] us engage in lots of activities during class.” Several students shared that a memorable activity from the year was a Community Time in which statements were read aloud and students were asked to turn on their camera when they identified with the sentiment. This activity was an impactful virtual one that allowed for an instantaneous view of similarities and connections and was a way to learn more about the deeper aspects of the identities of fellow community members. In a year characterized by a lack of social interaction, activities such as this one united the community and allowed for connection, despite the lack of each others’ physical presence. 

Extracurricular activities were also listed as an outlet in which many students found joy throughout the year. Students shared the benefits of the return to sports practices and competitions, Traditions Day, the play, the musical, and other social events as non-academic highlights from the school year. After such a physically isolated period, the school’s dedication to continuing to host as many experiences for the student body as possible was incredibly commendable and provided an extremely beneficial social engagement avenue for many. 

All of these sentiments ultimately bring rise to a larger question: After the experience of a global pandemic, how can schools enact models, schedules, and systems that best support students’ mental and physical health and preserve their motivation, happiness, and productivity? Hopefully, going forward, we can use the lessons learned from this unique school year to further improve our academic experience and maintain our mental wellbeing, all the while revelling in the joy of a return to normalcy. 

Thank you to all the students who participated in our survey!

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