The New Normal: How are COVID-19 and SPS distance learning plans affecting teenagers?

Engage with teenagers about the current pandemic and its effects on their lives and it is easy to see how it is affecting each of them differently–academically, socially, and psychologically. A wide spectrum of opinions and emotions exists for each kid, whether they feel able to be open about their true feelings or not.

One aspect of how high schoolers are handling this unusual situation concerns their age and class. Sophomores and juniors seem to be focused on their grades, how the new rules can help or hamper them, lots of boredom, annoyance at parents who are doing their utmost to keep them safe at home, and trying to slog through the rest of the semester as quickly as possible so they can make it until next school year, when, presumably, things will go back to “normal.”

Seniors, on the other hand, are enduring spells of anxiety and melancholia, since most of their chances to participate in important milestones like prom, graduation, and senior trips have been abruptly taken away from them, though some students with whom I spoke are taking these disappointments in stride.

One male senior, who has been enrolled in concurrent enrollment at Tulsa Community College since the beginning of the school year, says his current schedule is not much different from his pre-COVID one. He has about two hours of high school work each morning, and the rest is done through TCC.

He has already learned to accomplish something many young adults never quite can–being able to manage time responsibly and to be self-motivated–he attends both SHS and TCC while also working almost full time at a local convenience store.

Another key factor in how students are faring depends largely on the type of learners they are. Whether they are auditory, visual, or kinesthetic (hands-on) learners plays a large role in their enjoyment and success with distance learning.

Those who are adept at picking up on visual cues, who are quick learners, independent, and are able to manage their time well are excelling in this new format and for the most part enjoy it.

One student confided, “It’s going well. I don’t feel as pressured to get things done [as I did with traditional school]. It’s less stressful, and it makes me actually want to do my work.” She also likes the flexibility of having the “opportunity to improve [her] grades. It’s definitely better” than regular school, she concludes.

Another junior said he “likes being able to spread the lessons throughout the week so” they are easier to understand and he likes “how teachers are using different techniques to teach.”

Unfortunately, there are many other students who thrive much better in a traditional classroom setting with one-on-one instruction, classmates to turn to for help, and a more auditory or hands-on type of learning. In fact, some are really struggling with trying to teach themselves lessons and study and complete coursework largely on their own.

An SHS junior stated that: “Online school for me is a lot more difficult because I have a hard time motivating myself to do it. It’s definitely worse for me.” Another junior lamented, “Most kids, including me, are not individual learners. We need teachers helping us learn new concepts, especially in math or science.”

Then there are the students who, although they may be performing better than most of their peers and their grades have not suffered, are having a hard time coping psychologically without the customary buzz of classroom interaction with teachers and other students. One of those students said she “definitely misses in-person learning because [she] feels more aware and present during regular classes.” She said she also feels like her “mental health is better when [she is] in a social environment,” which also helps her academically.

Regardless of how these students feel, they have adapted remarkably well. This is in large part due to the painstaking work put in by the administration and staff while implementing the emergency plan, the solid systems that were already in place, the sophisticated technology SPS has, and the dedication and diligence of the teachers who are relentlessly checking on their students, adapting to new ways of teaching, reaching out to parents more often than they ever have, and who are pushing through their emotions to get through this emergency too.

Another senior says he has two teachers who consistently email him to check in which makes him feel like they won’t let him fall through the cracks or be overlooked. Ultimately, he “wishes it had just stayed the way it was for the rest of the semester” because he “misses the social aspect” of school, but he is learning to adapt to taking on more responsibility for his education a few months earlier than he originally planned. And, he emphasizes, “you can interact so easily on social media and the internet,” and that helps lessen the burden of isolation the teenagers are feeling keenly.

Regardless of where a teenager falls on the spectrum of these factors, whether they like the new system or detest it, miss their friends or activities, there seems to be a pervasive, endless spring break feeling combined with a youthful excitement that summer’s coming early. The students with whom I spoke remained optimistic that this will end soon, they will be reunited with their friends and mentors, and that just maybe, they will have become stronger and more resilient because of it.