It was March 13, 2020, and I woke up to catch the 6:32 bus. I threw on my uniform and rushed out the door on that rainy Friday, thinking to myself, “I hope I still have practice! And tomorrow is the weekend!”
It was a normal enough day, though unsettling rumors about looming closures percolated at my Catholic high school. Yet I never imagined when I walked out of my school’s blue canopy door that that Friday would be my last day of teenage normalcy — perhaps ever.
The school closures due to COVID-19 were heartbreaking for most. They struck me personally. There would be days where I would just cry, sometimes for no reason. Could it have been the lack of social interaction, the challenges of remote online learning or the realization that life as we knew it was forever changed? Probably a combination of all three.
It was a deep teenage funk. My own school, which is run by the archdiocese of New York, eventually reopened for in-person learning. But many of my peers are still stuck in that depressive state. If all schools were to return in-person, we could revive the way life once was for American youth. I think we must.
The closures, though aimed at keeping students and our teachers safe, have many grave consequences for kids going through an already-difficult stage of life. For one thing, remote learning means the level of distractions has gone through the roof. Engagement with schoolwork plummeted.
It’s difficult to follow along with the lesson. Students need a physical and emotional connection with their trusted teacher. The struggle to learn online has also led to massive grade inflation: Teachers, perhaps recognizing the difficulties of remote learning, cut us a break. But what will our generation do when we enter the real world and realize that we can’t just Google the answer?
Then there are athletics and after-school activities, which many high schoolers look forward to throughout the day. When students are fully online, there are few to no “end-of-day-incentives,” just monotonous screen time.
Before all this, some 8 million students participated on high-school athletic teams, according to the NCAA, which means that now there are at least 8 million kids without an outlet for their athletic energies. They’re deprived of exercise and the joy of team camaraderie. Sports are about so much more than throwing a ball on a patch of grass: You build bonds with strangers who become like family.
Lockdowns shattered those bonds.
Stripping us of social interaction, the lockdowns have taken a huge emotional toll on students. Even before the closures, the number of suicides was on the rise. Add the prolonged quarantining of young people — who are at minuscule risk of contracting or transmitting the disease — and it’s no wonder that 1 in 4 young adults reports having suicidal thoughts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Teens need support, they need trusted people to reach out to, but expressing deep emotional concerns through e-mails just doesn’t cut it.
Put yourself in our shoes. It’s March 13, 2020, and schools across the country are closing down. You may have been happy for a brief break, but did you ever imagine being robbed of a year of your youth, if not more?
True, it was necessary to close schools and put a pause on life until we got a handle on the virus. Ten months later, however, new safety protocols, treatments and several highly effective vaccines are here; the virus has an overwhelmingly high survival rate. And yet still 1.5 million students in New York are stuck at home. In Massachusetts, 45 percent of the 40 largest school districts keep their students in little boxes on a computer screen.
We will never achieve total safety; all sorts of threats menaced life before the pandemic, and they will continue to do so. We don’t know how much longer this virus will linger. But we can’t keep pushing off life out of fear.
The bottom line is this: Remote learning creates robots, while in-person learning creates intelligent individuals and citizens. We need to stop making excuses and get our students back inside school.
Mollie Murray is a sophomore at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, Long Island.