As a parent I never thought I would see the day that children would plead to go to school, but since many other things about the past 12 months have been like the Twilight Zone this has been part of our new reality as well. Most kids want, and need, the live school experience instead of the virtual one, for everything traditional school is — the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly of it. However, there is an alarming number of kids who aren’t pleading anymore; they have been out of school so long that they want to stay sheltered at home and this should worry us all.
Students in my northern California county, El Dorado, have had at least a hybrid school experience for much of the past year, more than what the bulk of California school children, including our neighbors in Folsom, have been getting. Hybrid was an acceptable middle ground, the greatest benefit being smaller class sizes. Still, hybrid is not optimal long-term for most kids. Students in the hybrid model are only getting half the curriculum they would get in full-time school and they are hardly getting the full school experience by seeing only half their classmates. Both of these things are creating fragile kids and I shudder to think of the long-term consequences of this — effects that will last for years to come.
Sheltering students from their peers has only made them more fragile. A friend who is a mental health counselor told me that since the pandemic began, the bulk of her clients are now children and young adults. Nearly three-quarters of psychologists who treat anxiety surveyed by the American Psychological Association reported an increase in demand for treatment since this time last year, while 60% of those who treat depression saw an increase as well. A similar rise in demand for help with sleep disorders was also reported.
Still, when students have had the opportunity to choose between hybrid or full-time this school year, like at some of the private schools in the region, I was surprised to learn how many families continued to choose hybrid, as opposed to full-time. The students I have talked with who opted to go back full-time expressed disappointment that more kids didn’t choose to join them on campus. For those who chose to remain full distance learning or hybrid, many of the same kids who were clamoring to get back to school six months ago say they now feel anxiety about going back and/or that their families have gotten comfortable with the slower routine.
According to the Center for Global Development, there are “six ways COVID-19 will shape the future of education” and none of them are good. Among them, millions of children will not return to school as it once was, opting for distance-learning models for good.
As anxiety and depression are soaring among especially children during the pandemic, keeping away from people is not the cure — it’s making matters worse. It is time to rip off the bandage.
When my children's high school district got the go-ahead from the state last month to open fully this month, I heard more grumbling than I expected, mostly from upperclassmen about not wanting to go back to school full-time at this point in the school year. Rip off that bandage and get back to it. Things will start to feel normal. Even with masks and more protocols, it will be a great thing to see kids be kids again, talking, goofing around with one another at breaks, gathering in the hall to enter a classroom together. I never thought I would say how much that visual means … and how it would be music to the ears.
Julie Samrick is a mother, teacher, author, and the founder of Kid Focused. Connect with her at juliesamrick.com