Missed Opportunities

In celebrating the one-year anniversary of COVID, I reflect back on the most incredible year of change

Natalie Garduno, Staff Writer

It has been brought to my attention that trying to improve your academic standing during distance learning varies between almost every student. I had much more motivation during my in-person school days, and I have found it difficult sometimes to replicate that same level of enthusiasm for my online classes. The social events over the past year that I have missed the most are birthday parties, dining out, going to the movies, and most importantly the ability to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park. Actually, the worst thing that has happened to me is how my 16th birthday had to get completely re-arranged. It was not exactly the type of day that I had dreamed about. I have started to notice that my social skills are beginning to decline. All of those passing periods really did give me the opportunity to work on my communication skills. My vision seems to be a lot poorer, as well, because I spend more time staring at a computer screen than any other activity all day long. My daily habits have truly changed because my time management skills, which were once stellar, are now all over the place.

In talking with my friends, it appears that the longer distance learning continues the higher the rate of disengagement. I believe this is happening because each day seems to be a repeat of exactly what the day before was like. Lilah Burke from Inside Higher Education states, “Students are still dealing with finding consistent locations inside their homes to do their schoolwork, trying to handle family health or financial issues, or having to homeschool their siblings.” This continuous struggle for a good number of Trojans can create a hefty load of stress which can ultimately lead to depression. All of these factors can play a role in the quality of learning that you are trying to accomplish, and I can admit that my grades have suffered too. The majority of my friends are looking for release points (music, television, social media) to help unload some of the mental exhaustion that is collected each day. My biggest mental hurdle is not knowing how much longer distance learning will continue. How much more of my high school career is going to have to be spent sitting at home? As each month passes, I see more lost social opportunities and milestones (being a Lunatic at sporting events, going to prom, or attending graduation) that possibly are being taken away. This leaves me emotionally uninspired and truly wishing for things to get back to normal. I still can’t believe that we are about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of being off campus due to COVID. I have run into a few of my friends while shopping, but these encounters turn out to be very quick because of safety protocols. I get bummed out because I want to stay and visit longer and hold onto these little pieces of normalcy just for a few more minutes.

In completing a homework assignment for my journalism class, I found an article written by Jenna Wirth, who is a staff reporter for the Daily Orange (the student run newspaper for Syracuse University). Ms. Wirth wrote an article last month entitled, “Online Classes Cause Mental Health Struggles for Students” which simply states that the increased amount of computer screen time combined with the lack of face-to-face instructor time can cause mental stress. I immediately agreed with her hypothesis. I can deeply relate because I invested in blue light glasses to help me with the abundance of screen time I am using each day. Since Day #1 of distance learning, my social anxiety has increased tremendously. The added stress of making sure my WiFi works, my microphone works, and that my camera can turn off and on properly are computer issues where I find it very easy to embarrass myself while on camera. There have been numerous times during this pandemic where my home WiFi connection is the issue as to why I am not in class. I also have home responsibilities that require me to leave home during regular school hours occasionally. This causes unnecessary stress to my daily routine. I worry about missing class or tests and watching my grades and attendance suffer for it.

One final article that I located for this assignment came from Thrive Global with an article entitled, “How the Shift to Remote Learning Affects Students’ Mental Health” written by Faith McGregor. McGregor writes, “Students have struggled in trying to find the proper balance between school and free time. Online learning forces students to rethink the ways they use their time, and make quality decisions on the best way(s) to learn and achieve his/her goals.” The difficulties that I’ve encountered throughout the pandemic have made me stronger. I have learned how to manage my time better. I have had to learn how to handle the unpredictability of distance learning and become more flexible. I have learned how to accept and relieve my stress. I have learned how to prioritize myself first by developing self-care routines. Throughout this entire experience, it has been family and friends that have truly made the difference in helping me keep my balance. I have just had to be more creative in finding ways to let these two resources help me stay positive. This past year has been unlike any other in history, and I am still standing.