Over a year ago, in-person learning was a completely normal experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning became the new normal. Now, students are finally heading back to the classroom after more than a year of learning and interacting with others through a computer screen, but some are finding it challenging to adjust back to another normal.
A new survey from Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative found that nearly 3 in 4 California teenagers are nervous about catching COVID-19 at school.
“We asked 500 students and they’re telling us the truth- that we know that this anxiety is real,” said David Bond, Blue Shield of California’s Director of Behavioral Health.
Solomae Getahun is a rising junior at CK McClatchy High School in Sacramento.
She said there are several things that worry her with returning to in-person learning this school year, and COVID is one of them.
“I’m very nervous about returning during a pandemic,” Getahun said. “Contracting COVID is obviously another concern. My family is fully vaccinated, but I’m worried if I get it, I (will) pass it onto someone who isn’t (vaccinated). I’d just feel really terrible about that.”
Vaccinations and mandatory mask mandates have been implemented across the state. Local schools in the Coachella Valley, like Shadow Hills High School, are also taking extra precautions to ensure the health and well-being of students, staff, and the community.
“We’ve actually increased our custodial staff by one to ensure that we can provide a lot more cleaning routines throughout the week,” said Shadow Hills High School Principal Gabriel Fajardo. “More importantly we continued to utilize our HEPA filters in all of our classrooms for the ACs, as well as the air purifiers, that we’ve been provided to all of our offices and our classrooms.”
Mental health experts said students’ anxieties about the new in-person school year aren’t just stemming from the virus.
“It’s complex- it’s not just a single acute thing that people are nervous about,” said Bond.
The Blue Shield survey also revealed that California teenagers are nervous about their academic performance this year, and face anxiety about how they will be able to re-adjust to in-person learning.
“When anxiety goes up, focusing ability goes down and it makes it harder and harder in a classroom,” said Michele Borba, Educational Psychologist and Author of “Thrivers”. “The CDC told us that the next wave of the pandemic is going to be a youth mental health crisis. And one of the things we’re seeing is a spike in stress, another is anxiety, and the third is depression.”
When it comes to discussing your teen’s mental health, experts said oftentimes, the best response is no response.
“Ask a question and then be quiet, stop talking, so that you really provide that space for the young person to tell you what’s really going on,” Bond said. “It’s so easy for adults to think the experience of teenagers is just like ours, only younger, but it’s not.”
Most importantly, Bond said to reassure them that they are strong, and that they are not going through these changes alone- we are all in it together.
“Continue down that road of making it okay and normal to talk about how someone’s doing, how someone’s feeling, and genuinely address their… mental health concerns… Default for resilience in that we are getting through this, we will get through this, we need some more time and we need to listen to each other and care about each other.”
For more information on mental health resources, check out the links below.