The Junior Effect: Long-Term Impacts of Remote Learning

By Anna Yang, Assistant Editor of School and Community Culture

With the new school year well underway, everyone is easing back into the rhythm of clubs and extracurricular activities.

With the second year of in-person learning after the pandemic started, it may be easy to forget we were remote at all. But the pandemic may have more lingering effects than assumed – and especially to the junior class of ‘24.

The year of ‘20-’21 was hard for every student. Being in remote learning made it difficult to focus in class, connect with classmates, and communicate with teachers. For the class of 2024, it was even harder: adjusting to a new high school environment online could never have been easy. 

One of the most difficult (and often overlooked) parts of remote was being involved with the school community. One anonymous junior described freshman year as “a fever dream.” School felt removed from daily life, and focusing even during classes was tough. Without the convenience of reaching out in-person, new students would have to go out of their way to be involved outside of class. “If I’m completely honest, paying attention in class was hard enough–I was out of it for at least 50% of the time,” they stated. “So willingly, actively seeking out clubs that were barely advertised outside of that one short, messy club fair we had was definitely not something that was ever on my mind.”

They’re far from alone in this sentiment. Many juniors only picked one or two clubs to join at most in freshman year, usually based on previous middle school experience. Remote seemed to have the opposite effect of drawing students outside of their shell – instead, they were sticking to what they knew best, restricting themselves from exploring all the options high school had to offer. “I feel like in school, a lot of the clubs are just extensions of things I’ve done for a long time,” one junior explained.

It was a late start, but it didn’t seem to be a huge deal. With the ‘21-’22 school year allowing for in-person learning, the sophomores adjusted quickly, came out of their shells, and seamlessly integrated into Payton. More clubs were joined, more friends were made, and all seemed to be well.

But going into junior year, worries are resurfacing. With only one more year to go before students must start preparing for college applications, juniors are in a race against time. 

“There’s always this fear that starting or joining something now will appear to colleges as though you’re just not very committed to something, and just want something to put on college apps,” one junior explains. “There’s also the whole thing with not having any experience, and feeling like you’re way too old to try something now when you should’ve done it during freshman or sophomore year.”

While spending a year in remote as a freshman made easing into club life smoother, it also meant not exploring all Payton had to offer, and that’s proving to have consequences down the line. Joining new clubs late in a high school career makes it difficult to get leadership positions with such little experience. It also can make students look like they struggle with commitment or dedication, or fear trying new things outside of their comfort zone, all of which can detract from a college application. 

Not all is doom and gloom, however. One junior offers a comforting statement, stating “since everyone was affected, it shouldn’t be too much of a concern comparative wise to our own grade,” in regard to college applications. Another junior says remote actually offered them more flexibility in clubs without having to make in-person contact, and also gave them the confidence to start their own clubs.

Thankfully, it’s unlikely Payton will experience another similar setback in the future. And while starting off their high school careers with a full year in remote may have held juniors back from their fullest potential, students at Payton have always managed to make the best of things.

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