NRHS Community Pandemic Post-Reflections

In the times of a global pandemic, it may be hard to justify how you feel or how others felt. In order to help, the members of The Deliberator, North Reading High School’s official school newspaper, created a survey asking all current high schoolers about what they thought of this unique year. 52 students responded covering all areas of their education, from how they felt learning in a remote environment for half of the school year to their mental health during the transition back to fully in person learning.

Forms response chart. Question title: Which type of learning do you prefer better: remote or in person?. Number of responses: 52 responses.

We first asked the students about the different types of learning that was offered this year and which one they preferred the most. Over half of them thought that in-person learning was better compared to hybrid learning or remote learning, while about a fifth said that hybrid learning was the best. And only a small percentage of the students chose remote learning.

For those who chose in-person learning- which was more than fifty percent- most preferred it because they felt they were more focused and could talk to their teachers and guidance counselors faster which promoted a better school environment. They also said in overwhelming numbers that they liked being able to talk to their friends and socialize more. When comparing it to hybrid and remote learning, the students said that they didn’t like working behind a screen all day and that it took away from the ‘high school experience.’ One student even mentioned how they didn’t like hybrid learning because they “really missed a lot of [their] friends who were in the other cohort and hadn’t seen since March 2020.”

For the students who chose hybrid learning as their preferred method of learning- which was about a fifth of the responses- many liked it because they enjoyed some of the freedoms that they had at home, but at the same time enjoyed occasionally going to school. A student said that “it was nice on days I woke up late, but I liked going to school, why not have the best of both words.”

How has the pandemic been challenging for you in terms of schooling? We want to know your honest thoughts.

When asked about challenges faced during learning in the pandemic, one junior mentioned that “the pandemic made this year the hardest school year I have [ever] had.” It was particularly intimidating for incoming freshmen, who entered high school without being able to get a vibe for what the experience is like. Lucille Fisher, a freshman, mentioned, “I think it was hard having to do remote school work since there wasn’t any teachers to help me out when it came to me being stuck.” She added, “it was hard to not…be scared of getting the problems wrong.” 

For other students, the remote environment appeared not to be conducive to learning well. Caroline Pecora, a junior, said, “I think the pandemic stopped me from being my outgoing self and an avid class participant. When I was at home, it was like I wasn’t even there. The pandemic didn’t alter my grades, but rather changed my personality as a student.” 

Common struggles listed across all grades included staying focused and navigating a year barely seeing friends face to face. One sophomore mentioned, “Learning was difficult because most teachers and students did not know how to teach and learn from this [online] style.” 

For some students, especially those with unique health conditions, learning proved to be extremely challenging this year. Roxie Fulgham, a junior said, “I feel like when I had to be online due to the pandemic, I was less engaged, more tired and more distracted and got way less work done.” She added, “…being a mentally ill and autistic student, these things have affected me quite a bit when it come to how I learn and what works for me. Those struggles I faced during online learning also caused me to get behind on a lot of my work, and in turn affecting my grades throughout the entire year – even…now.”

Forms response chart. Question title: On a scale of 1 to 10, how has your mental health been during the pandemic?. Number of responses: 52 responses.

Mental health has been a hot debate recently. Many people have vented online about how their mental health has plummeted along with their motivation to do any work. The same can be said with North Reading High School. At a first glance, the amount of responses for a 7/10 rating can give the assumption that it is the average mental health of our High School. However, if you look at the rest of the chart you can see that the next highest ratings out of 10 are 1, 2, and 3 with a total of 19 responses. Their sum equates to 37% of the total responses, as opposed to the 23.1% of students who responded with a 7/10. When taking the mean of the graph above, it comes out to an average of 5. So on a scale from 1-10, students at North Reading High School picked an average of 5/10 when rating how their mental health has been during the pandemic. It seemed like most students were below average due to not seeing their friends or trying to adjust to an unusual learning environment, but of course people varied across the spectrum.

In which aspects, if any, has the pandemic made school a better experience for you? Tell us about them.

We also asked students if there were any aspects of remote learning that made their learning experiences better. While a lot of the students said that there was no benefit for them while learning at home, one student remarked that “The pandemic made school a better experience by some of the hybrid days. When I was learning at home at the beginning of the year, it was like a break day, I didn’t have to wake up early and dress myself, or look presentable.” Many others agreed that remote learning was more laid-back and allowed them to sleep later. 

Some students commented on how the new model of learning has made them appreciate normal, fully in-person learning more, and that they became more appreciative of the opportunities they regained when in-person school was re-established in the last few months of school. Many kids took simple opportunities and activities from in-person learning for granted, never thinking that school was going to change in such a drastic way as it did last spring. Seeing friends every weekday, leaving the house, and attending class, sports, and extracurricular clubs in-person were all things that we as students will most likely appreciate more going forward after the pandemic. Other than that, there was a good variety of answers, some as simple as a less crowded parking lot and more time to eat lunch. 

One student brought up an interesting point, saying that “While staring at a screen the entire day has been challenging… the pandemic forced the use of technology upon our school. For me, it has been beneficial to getting my work completed faster because as long as I have my Chromebook, I have everything I need.” Remote learning has required many teachers to use technology a lot more often than they would have during a normal school year. Using online resources such as Google Classroom and EdPuzzle and having all of them readily available on students’ Chromebooks can be a lot more convenient and organized than keeping track of binders and papers. The pandemic also forced teachers who weren’t as tech-savvy as others to learn the ins and outs of different online resources. Lots of new and useful resources were also discovered and used more widely, and will probably be used by teachers even after the pandemic is well behind us.

Forms response chart. Question title: On a scale of 1 to 10, how supported have you felt by the education system during the pandemic?. Number of responses: 52 responses.

The education system has had to create an entirely new system of remote learning over the course of a few months, and this remote and hybrid model has come with unavoidable problems and complications. Some students have felt like teachers and faculty could have done a better job implementing and supporting the new methods of learning this year. 17.3% of people said that they felt supported by the school system on an average of 6 out of 10, the largest number of people so far. The second largest number of students so far, 15.4% of respondents, said that they felt supported by the school system on an average of 8 out of 10. The lowest percentage of people were respondents who said that on average, they rated support on an average of 3 out of 10, at 1.9%. 

It seems like the majority of high school students in North Reading felt decently supported by their teachers and the school administration. This could be attributed to the fact that while many schools have been fully remote over the past year, many people in the North Reading School District such as Principal Loprete have worked hard to make sure schools stayed open at least part time. Because of the hard work of faculty, students at least could experience the best of being both in person and remote as they navigated a school year unlike any other. Thanks to the commendable efforts of NRHS faculty, at the beginning of April, kids were able to return back to in person learning full time and enjoy the benefits that come with interacting with people face to face. 

In which areas, if any, do you think the education system nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic could have been improved in pandemic-era learning?

The last question asked was “In which areas, if any, do you think the education system nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic could have been improved in pandemic-era learning?” We got some great responses to this as well. Some students gave some great feedback and notes for the school to consider but other students thought the school did a wonderful job despite the circumstances of needing to meet many different medical standards while also being conscious of parent opinion. 

A common critique that was a concern of multiple students was the amount of time being paid to the online versus the in-person students. At the beginning of the school year, the teachers seemed worried that they would forget the online people and most of the work was catered to them. As the school year progressed, teachers were paying more attention to the in-person students. One student even speculated on the fact that the teacher completely forgot to open the meeting at all. 

Another concern was AP classes. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, said that “I feel that the College Board could have handled pandemic-era learning better and improved, but largely stagnated.” They then went on to explain that after taking two years of APs, this year was much harder to learn the subject and “Testing remotely was difficult because we could not go back on multiple choice questions, causing unnecessary stress that could have been avoided if the College Board had developed a better and more secure testing system and method.” 

Overall, many students appreciated the difficulty faced in trying to please many different people but there were definitely areas in which the school system could have operated better.

Through taking this survey of what members of the NRHS student body have thought about the nationwide phenomenon of remote learning, of which we were affected, a lot has been learned about education and mental health across the board. Thankfully, the worst of the pandemic is over and schools are slowly, inch by inch, making their way back to normal. Hopefully, next year we are able to attend classes without wearing masks or worrying about social distancing. 

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Amanda Sherman

Amanda Sherman is the Editor of World Affairs at The Deliberator. She likes to sip matcha boba tea in her free time and send memes to friends.

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