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  • Writer's pictureLiz Morrison, LCSW

How to Navigate School During the Pandemic

School and the pandemic for kids and teens

March of 2020 brought a whole set of challenges that have continued to permeate our society. We’ll be talking about these challenges in a four-blog series, so stay tuned for more about managing life during these uncertain times.

One of those challenges is navigating school during the pandemic. For high school and college students, this is especially hard. You’ve missed homecomings, football games, proms, graduations, back to school nights, hanging out with your friends. The list goes on and on.

So what do you do now? Well, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help you navigate school during the pandemic. But first, let’s dive a little deeper into what school during COVID is like.

Going Back to School During COVID

Transitioning from remote learning to going back to school in person is difficult during the pandemic for a variety of reasons. First off, you might have to wear a mask, which can be a hard transition if you’re not used to having fabric on your face for eight hours. Wearing masks all day can be uncomfortable. But more importantly, wearing a mask means that you can’t see people’s faces and read their facial expressions.

This is especially hard when you want to interact with your friends or even walk by someone in the hallway and smile at them. It’s also difficult for anyone who is hard of hearing and relies on reading lips. Or even if you’re not hard of hearing but you’re sitting in the back of a classroom and you can’t hear or see what your teacher is saying.

Another difficulty of going back to school during COVID is social distancing. You just want to hang out with your friends. But now you have to follow rules that keep you three or six feet apart. Passing notes is harder. Hugging isn’t allowed. Even high fives and handshakes are a no-no.

While a lot of schools have gone back to in-person learning, some are still holding classes online or doing a hybrid. This is a new way of learning for many students. It can make it difficult to get through class with all the distractions at home.

We recognize that 2020 was a weird and difficult year for everyone. It was especially strange for high school and college students. High school seniors didn’t have a typical prom or graduation. College freshmen missed out on experiencing being away from home for the first time. College seniors also had an atypical graduation and missed all the fun activities that come with senior year of college.

2021 is shaping up to be just as weird and difficult as 2020. With the Delta variant of COVID, there is so much to consider when going to school. It can be dangerous, especially if you’re unvaccinated. Even if you are vaccinated, there is the risk that you could contract the virus. Either way, going back to school in person, because of the risk, can affect your mental health and how you cope with the “new normal.”

Covid and School and teens

Thinking About School During the Pandemic Differently

Everyone’s had to get used to this weird “new normal” of masks, social distancing, online learning, and incessant hand washing. For juniors and seniors in high school who are thinking about college, this may be a hard time for you because you’re not sure what college is going to look like. This is a fair concern, because the truth is, no one knows.

Maybe you feel anxious about going to a conventional college either again or for the first time. Yes, there are risks to living in close quarters with others, but it doesn’t have to be so scary. There are plenty of protocols being put in place at colleges and universities all over the country to keep you and your fellow students safe.

For juniors and seniors in college who are thinking about getting a graduate degree, there’s plenty of pressure to know whether you want to continue school in general, let alone continue school under these conditions. Graduate programs have also had to face major changes in the way they operate. If you want to go to school for something like theater or art, subjects that are harder to do remotely, you and the programs you choose have big decisions to make.

If you go to a college that requires vaccination to attend in person, that might cause some conflict if you and your family don’t want to get vaccinated. Or maybe you’re unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons and are at risk all the time. You’ll have to weigh the decision to go to school and get vaccinated versus going somewhere else or taking classes online.

Tips and Tricks for Handling School During COVID

Here are a few tips and tricks to handle going back to school during COVID:

1. Comply with all rules. They’re there for your safety and the safety of your fellow students, teachers, and staff. Remember that schools just want everyone to be safe. So if there are rules that seem dumb or annoying, just know they’re there for everyone’s protection. We know it’s hard to socially distance and wear masks all day. But by following the rules you’ll keep yourself and your friends safe.

2. Find ways to still talk to your friends and hang out outside if you can. Your social life looks different now, but there are still ways to be with your friends. Do things outside as much as possible and stay away from big gatherings indoors. Enjoy the nice weather while it lasts. Take advantage of being able to spend time outside with friends. You can also use FaceTime or Zoom to stay connected to your friends, especially as we get into the colder months.

3. Talk to your teachers about concerns you may have. The teachers and staff are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you’re feeling anxious or concerned about being back in school. It’s completely normal to have feelings about returning to school in person. The teachers and staff are great resources to check in with while you navigate this new way of learning.

4. Talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling. Your friends and family are your support system. Don’t be afraid to lean on them during this difficult time. Your friends likely have similar concerns to yours. Be there for each other. Talk about how you’re feeling and stay connected. Share your concerns with your family as well. This will help them understand how you’re coping with being back in school and how they can help you alleviate the anxiety and stress you might be feeling.

5. Reframe negative thoughts about challenging situations. Your mindset is important when it comes to how you think about difficult situations. If you’re having negative thoughts about returning to school or the way things are at school, see if you can shift your thinking to a more positive outlook. For example, if you have a thought such as “I hate that I can’t hug my best friend,” maybe you can reframe that thought to say “I’m so glad my best friend and I get to see each other in person again.” Small shifts in thinking go a long way.

Getting Support While Navigating School During the Pandemic

We know times are hard right now for everyone, but especially high school and college students who just want a normal school year. If you’re looking for support on how to navigate school during the pandemic, we’re here to help. Book a free consult to talk to our professional social workers today about how to handle school during COVID.


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