As the U.S continues to be the COVID-19 capital of the world, everyone is struggling to adjust to the new normal: mask mandates, minimal social gatherings and, most importantly, remote learning for millions of students. Nearly all 5,500 students in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District are online, according to the district website. While the district is learning to balance school at home, teachers and students are finding themselves struggling with these new adjustments.
One student adjusting to online school at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School is sophomore Morgan Kinard. Although finding online learning more challenging than in-person instruction, Kinard finds that her accessibility to helpful resources and organized folders is infinitely easier. She also says that the attention towards her own academic needs have improved as well. However, Kinard realizes that her motivation toward school has dwindled down.
“I have definitely noticed changes in my mental health. On school days, I am much less energetic and excited to begin my day, and my stress levels are much higher than they were during the summer and around this time last year,” Kinard said. “I think it is due to a much different learning environment and sitting in front of a camera for five hours a day.”
Kinard is right, the excessive amount of screen time is proving to be a challenge for many. Before COVID-19, schools were a place for direct interaction and communication with new people. Under these new circumstances, socialization has been at an all-time low. Socialization has been proven to be crucial in every point of adolescent education, and is now unfortunately minimalized.
Sarah Odim, eighth grade English teacher at Terrill Middle School agrees with Kinard. Odim finds that participation and enthusiasm among her students is at an all time low.
“I have an honors class this year and getting them to participate sometimes is like pulling teeth,” Odim said. “They don’t want to be wrong, so it’s hard to get them to feel comfortable enough through a screen in order to be able to share.”
Another downside of online learning is Odim’s inability to understand the personal needs and personalities of her new students. Odim knows that different learning methods and personal obstacles have an effect on her students, but she is at a loss when it comes to helping them. Odim says that she is having difficulty grappling with her own stress and anxiety personally.
Feelings of stress and loneliness are not confined to this district. Outside Scotch Plains-Fanwood is Chelsey Tang, a sophomore at Union County Magnet High School.
“My mental health has gotten significantly worse, but I think that most of the cause is from personal reasons and also the isolation that quarantine brings,” Tang said. “School contributes a large amount of stress, however. I find it extremely difficult to focus or complete assignments when my mental health is bad.”
While Tang and Kinard believe that the workload is not too overwhelming, the students along with Odim agree that online learning is both a physical and emotional adjustment for everyone involved. However, online is a necessary evil. The safety of students and staff comes first, always.
by Charlotte Gumpel