Although 2020 is officially over, the beginning of 2021 has not felt very different from the constant obstacles pummeled in our world last year. 2021 started off with the capital insurrection and a continuation of the events surrounding the 2020 presidential election. If you’re a high schooler, those obstacles felt more like mountains that were put in between you and a normal school year. Regardless of your grade level or age, this past year was both physically and emotionally challenging for most people, but particularly for high schoolers.
When schools around the country shut down and transitioned to online instruction last spring, most students weren’t worried, most were expecting nothing more than a longer spring break. But as the weeks dragged on with no clear answer as to when schools would reopen, students started to feel the more hidden effects of social distancing. For Jewish teens, this probably involved separating from your social life at school and at synagogue. If you were a junior or senior, you were searching for and deciding between colleges while having no clue whether colleges would be in-person or online in the fall, or how you’re going to take your SAT or ACT. With this uncertainty, there’s no wonder why most teenagers experienced anxiety and depression.
Students were forced to adapt at the beginning of this pandemic. Not being in school meant a lack of “normal” structure and routine. Once online learning commenced, students had another obstacle of learning how to handle loads of virtual homework. In addition, students had to find other ways to socialize with their peers. The lack of proximity to others made socializing nearly impossible in a non-academic sense during the pandemic. And because most churches, mosques, and synagogues were also closed, socializing with peers outside of school was equally as impossible. Physically staying away from our friends in this virtual era has serious long-term effects on the social development of kids and teens, but many opportunities have been made to improve the social-emotional outlook. Many groups within the Jewish community in particular have introduced a virtual mentorship program for kids of all ages.
After one full year of pandemic living, we can safely say that every aspect of our lives have changed. When school came back in session this fall, still remote for most students, freshmen were robbed of the beginning of the high school experience: meeting new friends, joining clubs, first homecoming dances, and more were all canceled. Some freshmen still haven’t met their classmates in person. Sophomores face the same social-emotional challenges as their peers. Juniors have to start their college search process with no clue how the school is going to change in the upcoming years. Seniors have to go through the entire application and decision process not knowing how the pandemic will affect admissions, if they’ll be able to live on campus in the fall, and more. Additionally, seniors are still missing out on the traditional senior year activities. They might not have a prom or in-person graduation, just to list a few. And, if a student has lost a family member or loved one to the pandemic, the social-emotional problems are only magnified. This year has been hard for everyone; I think there is comfort in knowing that nobody is alone in this struggle. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we should not get lax about protective measures like masks and social distancing too early. We will surely find ways to learn and grow from this experience. There is a Hasidic saying that goes “every descent is for the sake of a future ascent” so an ascent is on the horizon. All we have to do is keep fighting and climbing the mountain.