Empty Classrooms, Empty Minds: The Impact COVID-19 has had on Students

By Anna Lyon

We’ve all heard the stories of Friday night games, memorable friend troupes, grueling essays, laughingly failed exams, and wild moments people have made into their most meaningful memories. High school is known as an era of growth, personal development, and youthful fun. However, to the current generation of growing teens, high school has been not only difficult but disappointing in ways most people will never understand.

        In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and caused the shutdown of all schools in the country. In our city of New Orleans, schools were closed on Friday, March 13th. Friends never got to say goodbye, desks remained uncleaned, classrooms remained decorated, and students and teachers alike found themselves overwhelmed and underprepared to compensate for this sudden shift in the school system. Classes became exclusively virtual, and final exams were cancelled for everyone. Today, schools have made accommodations for students to learn in a classroom, however the restraints Coronavirus precautions have placed on students still remain prominent. Not only are teens losing the opportunities to make new friends and make new memories with each other, they are struggling to even put in the effort to study. COVID-19 forced the world to become digital and distant, and because of this, students are struggling to learn in school. 

        Many schools across the country are still continuing to adjust to life in a pandemic, and one such school is New Orleans’s very own Morris Jefferson High School. More commonly referred to as “Morris Jeff”, this high school is home to the internationally recognized IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma Program and is known for teaching students not only what to learn, but how to learn. During the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers at Morris Jeff have been learning both digitally and in-person. Similarly, to when any change in a system or schedule is made, there will be mixed opinions and reviews on the changes. In a survey sent out to several select students at Morris Jeff, there were specific trends and patterns seen within each answer. For most students ranging from grades 10 to 12, the general agreement shown is that learning virtually or separated from peers, while having minor benefits such as choosing learning pace, has a negative effect on a student’s learning ability and growth.

       Most students feel as if they are incapable of truly learning anything strictly through a screen. Many also feel that because they do not have tangible ways to make friends and become motivated by their peers, they have lost a majority of their willingness to learn. In an interview with Morris Jefferson High School’s principal, Mrs. Margaret Leaf, the influence Coronavirus has had on students and faculty becomes evident. Leaf has been working for over a year from home, and she highlighted throughout her answers as to how the staff at Morris Jeff has had to change. Time that is typically spent trying to improve the learning style of teacher’s classrooms turned into the regulation of the school’s general operations.

       Weekly staff meetings about exciting student events and planning pep rallies became about ensuring that masks were worn and that student entrance and exit locations were secure. While the teachers and faculty at Morris Jeff are working hard to make unprecedented learning environments safe and successful for students, they understand the stunt in personal growth and maturity the current schooling system has placed on adolescence.

       In the words of Mrs. Leaf, “A school is never a school until the students give it life.” The lack of student interaction between peers, and the lack of student – teacher dynamic, has caused a serious drop in not only the performance of students but also in the essential development young people are naturally drawn to during their high school years. Morris Jeff’s principal powerfully stated, “It isn’t possible to make not going out into the world better for teens.” This statement has proven itself true, as during a typical high school scenario, teenagers branch out of their homes and comfort zones to try and find the person they want to become.

       Viewing the long-term goals of colleges and careers becomes increasingly more difficult as teens have lost access to finding their passions and drive to learn in the day-to-day. While overall student performance has dropped in the classroom, there has been noticeable, positive output from teens as well. Though students are separated by classrooms and mandatory masks, classes have become very united and found ways to make each other laugh. Students have put into practice the ability to write a professional email and not only request assistance but also to present suggestions on how to improve their learning. As advances are being made to stop the spread of COVID-19 in NOLA, such advances are being made to continue to motivate and encourage students citywide. 

       COVID-19 came to the inconvenience of everyone in the world. Full-time employees, big businessmen, world-famous musicians, professional scientists, budding artists and everyday students have all felt the weight of the pandemic that has remained prominent and powerful in our lives. Students, especially teenage students, are struggling to grow mentally and personally as a result of Coronavirus restraints. Moving forward each and every day is the only way to ensure the futures of today’s students as they try to juggle the average anxieties and soul-searching of high school, whilst also being held back from truly expanding their world from beyond their school chrome books.

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