FHHS students and teachers reflect on long term impacts of COVID

By Maria Magana-Navarro,

Journal intern

While many would rather forget the unseeming memories the coronavirus brought upon the world in January 2020, it’s undeniably a significant event in our lives, especially for students.

What students thought would be a short two-week break from school inadvertently turned into two years. Schools shut down, students were quarantined, and what would ensure for the next two years, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. The COVID experience varied for students. While some students adjusted well during this time, others struggled. This change was notably seen among different grade levels for high school students, where the coronavirus shutdowns stunted their social, emotional, and academic journey.

Through online settings, communication was lost. As a result, interaction among teachers, students, and peers was stunted. “I felt very stuck because I didn’t know how to talk to people and make friends,” commented April Cain, a junior at Friday Harbor High School. She believed she could not interact and connect with new people as she only spoke with those in her circle. A freshman, Jack Leyde, also commented that his peers didn’t interact and weren’t focused on school. It was easier for students to join Zoom calls and ignore what was happening. The socializing aspect of high school was, for the most part, strictly between groups. As a result, student solidarity and trust were lost.

Sophomore Ashley Flores said she missed the bonding years with her grade. The pandemic hit her class while she was in 6th grade, meaning she and her classmates missed out on the crucial bonding years of middle school. Flores believes her class isn’t “as close” with one another compared to other grades as they were small and didn’t have quality bonding during the pandemic. Grade levels are bound to bond, and bonding requires trust. Trust is necessary to communicate well. Students lose that face-to-face interaction when quarantined in their homes. Inadvertently trust was lost among students and, incidentally, teachers.

Daniel Garner, an English teacher at FHHS, noted the most significant difference for teachers was a loss of immediate interactions with students. It was difficult for students to get feedback and interact with their teachers effectively. “It affected our ability to create relationships. So the trust level between students and teachers went down.” Due to losing trust, students lacked confidence in their work and themselves. As communicated by Patty Turnbow, a FHHS math teacher, her students were hesitant to speak over Zoom. Those same students would have been comfortable enough to speak up if they were in a classroom setting. “Sometimes, as a teacher, I felt like I was a radio talk show host,” commented Turnbow.

Loss of trust, confidence, and social interaction brought students mental and emotional hurdles. Multiple students stated they felt they were made to “grow up” and “mature” on their own. Senior Aaron Orozco commented on his transition from online to in-person. According to Orozco, he was at a loss for time. “I felt like a 14-year-old in a sophomore’s body.” Revealing while he was physically an older student, his mentality didn’t age. Another senior, Sheya Welty, mentioned how she didn’t appreciate what she had pre-COVID, adding that she believed her school experience and community was taken away due to COVID.

Losing time and essential years of high school life is bound to impact students, and Garner believes last year’s seniors took the hit the hardest. The 2023 graduate class were freshmen when the pandemic began and excited to let loose and enjoy high school life until COVID hit. In a split second, when a taste of freedom was within arms reach was suddenly light-years away. “That class was angry and frustrated, and they felt like they had gotten things stolen from them,” said Garner. Emotional strain and frustration rose. Familial relations were affected. Senior families were put under a lot of stress and depression. Self-harm spread among students. While Garner clarifies he doesn’t have solid evidence supporting his claim, he knew many senior families and based his reasoning on his personal experience.

Stress and anxiety stunted students in many forms, be it mentally, academically, or socially. Freshman Malia Warin mentioned that although she did well online, her emotional journey was strange. “It made me more anxious to be around people because of how I might seem.” Students’ anxiety unfortunately affected academic learning. While some, such as Warin, did well through online classes, academic holes were noticeable, according to teachers.

In English classes, Garner commented that reading levels had fallen behind, and Turnbow mentioned she had 9th graders who didn’t know the multiplication table. Subjects such as English and math are classes that build on information from previous years. Despite online classes, the pandemic caused information retention and attention span to be stunted for two years. These holes in learning stem from a student’s maturity level, how old they were when COVID-19 first began, and what years were missed. Turnbow added that older students in her previous algebra and geometry classes learned great online and excelled in classes once they returned in person. However, with time, she noticed holes in her younger students learning.

A common consensus among students and teachers was that the younger a student was, the more noticeable the effect. This is partially because when younger students are in the classroom, older students apply social pressure. Younger students learn from the older students as a tone is set within a classroom on what is acceptable and what is not. However, being removed from that social pressure, younger students act out more since they have yet to mature enough to learn as a student. Physically students are there. However, some retain a seventh-grade mindset.

Additionally, less maturity equated to a short attention span. Garner noted that due to digitalization and the rise of short-form videos such as TikTok, a lack of attention was noticed in middle school students or students transitioning from middle to high school—the need to be constantly entertained is still noticeable even up to junior year.

While many factors affect students negatively, students are resilient. Especially after the transition from online to high school, young minds put in the effort and learn from lost time. Turnbow was excited to comment that her 9th-grade students are steadily improving. “It is astonishing to me, even in these two months, how much my freshmen have grown…” A drive to learn and be creative is even more prevalent among younger students. In English classes, students love creative writing. Garner mentioned in the last few years how rich the experience is since students have things they want to say. “Creativity has been off the charts…”

While the pandemic did stunt students’ academic, emotional, and social experiences, young students are persistent. If an effort is made among students, teachers, and parents, students can learn and make up for those holes in their lives.

Compassion and motivation are vital in helping students recover from the impending years of the pandemic. Things worsen before they improve; however, young minds are motivated to recover knowledge and experiences from their social, emotional, and academic lives. Effort, preservation, and motivation have pushed students to adapt to sudden changes and persevere through all outcomes.