Addressing the Wounds of Remote Learning

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Over the past two years, Montclair students have endured tough and rigorous changes because of the pandemic. These changes have burdened students with various difficulties such as academic setbacks, mental health struggles, lack of motivation, and loss of focus. These obstacles apply to students in and out of school and they have prevented students from excelling during the pandemic.

Most students are happy to return to school and cited seeing friends, having better relationships with teachers, and engaging in clubs and sports as parts of their life they are grateful to have again. While some students have their fair share of difficulties such as organization and acclimating to a daily routine like before, the general consensus is that in-person education is better for students, teachers, and families.

A Washington Post study conducted among teens ages 14 to 18 found that almost half stated they struggled academically during the pandemic. In a survey with 160 Montclair High School students from grades 9-12, 55% said that they also struggled academically during the pandemic. 

Results from the Start Strong testing conducted in New Jersey public schools last fall showed that Montclair students had not properly learned material during remote learning. 78% of high school students taking algebra need strong support in mathematics and 62% of students in grades 4 to 10 need strong support in ELA, the NJ Department of Education found. 

Learning in-person, while shown to improve academic scores, also has social-emotional advantages. The MHS survey found that an overwhelming 82% of students had difficulty with staying focused while online learning.

“Teachers expected the same amounts of work to be completed but it was difficult to be motivated to understand [material] with the lack of contact with friends and teachers,” said one student.

While isolated during virtual learning, mental health issues skyrocketed among teens all over the country. The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a nationwide poll last spring on parents of teens where 73% observed their children finding it challenging to interact with friends. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys have experienced a “new or worsening anxiety” since March of 2020, the study also found.

Another study by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) confirmed that social anxiety was overwhelmingly more prevalent among students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost half of our survey’s participants said they experienced personal mental health issues during the pandemic, and 35% dealt with school-related stress. 

Many mental health struggles, especially depression, can severely affect one’s motivation. This rang true for MHS students, who with a three-fourths majority said that they were grappling with finding motivation for schoolwork and daily tasks during remote learning. 

But this was just an added struggle on top of difficulties that some students were already experiencing even before remote learning began: the loss of socialization. 

“I am a person who is very outgoing and likes to talk to people, but with online learning, I was not able to truly interact with my friends,” said one student, “Talking to them through the screen is just not like the real thing.

One of the biggest challenges of adjusting back into a normal routine is that students are on different academic levels. Depending on what teachers they had during the 2020-21 school year, it may be more or less easy to align with in-person schooling routines. 

The academic experiences of students during remote learning are greatly varied – some completed busy work and others faced rising workloads and expectations to perform in class as if it was a typical school year. 

“I noticed some of my teachers started to slack a bit and wouldn’t teach us like they were supposed to,” said a student, while others were overwhelmed with the pressure their teachers put on them to complete large amounts of work in an isolated environment. 

Because of this, it is crucial to the process of returning to school that teachers, families, and students assess which areas they may need help catching up in, and it may not be only academically. The pandemic has allowed society as a whole to more confidently acknowledge mental health issues, specifically among teens, and it is wise to take advantage of this.

Despite the growing pains of adjusting back into our pre-pandemic routines, it is safe to say that most agree in-person education is the way to go. The benefits greatly outweigh any obstacles that the community may be currently facing, and hopefully, if the right steps are taken, Montclair can move forward with the scars of the pandemic and remote learning healed.