Three years of the COVID-19 pandemic: How the world has changed for high schoolers

By Olivia Sampson, Managing Editor of Community and Culture

While less prevalent than they used to be, masks continue to be recommended and in some cases even required.

Over three years ago, on January 20, 2020, the first laboratory-confirmed Coronavirus case in the United States was reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since then, almost one hundred million COVID cases have been reported in the country, and over one million have died due to complications associated with contracting the virus. With masks becoming commonplace and people you know catching the virus being an everyday occurrence, it is safe to say that the world has changed a lot throughout the last three years.

One group of people in particular that have been hit hard by all this change is high schoolers. After all, how would you have reacted three years ago if somebody told you that you would spend an entire year of school online? The reality is this: we lost a whole academic year to COVID when we switched to virtual learning. So here we are, three years later, and we are beginning to see the long-term effects of losing that year. When asked about these changes, high school students reflected on the last three years and the impact of the Coronavirus on their lives.

Depending on the student’s grade, the year they lost was either a year of middle school or a year of high school. Those who lost a year of high school (current seniors and juniors) missed out on some of the most important aspects of their high school experience. Juniors, in particular, missed out on their freshman year, creating various challenges when in-person learning was reintroduced. Alexa Conforti, a current junior, reflected on this loss, stating, “Virtual learning made it difficult to make friends, especially since we were all starting at a new school. All of us had to rely on social media to meet people.”

Jorje Lara, also a junior, agreed with this statement and added, “When I started sophomore year, I felt like a freshman because I had barely been inside the school, and I didn’t know most of the people in my grade.” 

Although seniors were able to experience their freshman year, they have still begun to feel the effects of virtual learning as they go through the college application process. Current senior Avi Jerath expressed his feelings on the matter, saying, “The biggest impact I’ve felt is the increased competitiveness in admissions. In 2021 and 2022, students saw some of the lowest admission rates in recent history. In anticipation of a similar trend this year, many of my friends have applied to 15, 20, even 25 schools, which is a trend across the country.” 

He also noted the pressure that came with this increased competitiveness and added, “Throughout this process, it felt like everyone was constantly pressured to fill out one more application or take one more ACT, but it rarely stopped at just one more. I’m sure you’ve seen seniors and their fatigue from the stress and seemingly never-ending work.” 

Although they will be able to spend all four years of high school in person, first- and second-year students lost some foundational time in their education due to the pandemic. Freshman Anaya Joshi mentioned what she described as a “big jump” from sixth grade to eighth grade, pointing out that “because almost half of sixth grade and the entirety of seventh grade was online, I went from just having left elementary school to worrying about high school. I feel like I missed out on being a middle schooler.”

Emilia Malecki, a current sophomore who spent eighth grade online, also had strong feelings about the social and educational losses that COVID brought about. She expressed that “whether socially or academically, you learn a lot in middle school, especially in eighth grade. It is such an important time for our development. I wasn’t ready to go to high school because I felt like I had lost so much of that time.”

The COVID pandemic has impacted everyone in some way, shape, or form, and for current high school students specifically, this impact has been felt in many aspects of our lives. Many students look at that lost year with sadness, but they also note some of the more positive things that came out of it. “I think a lot about how different my life would be if COVID never happened,” Lara said. “Losing that year taught me a lot, though. I feel like everyone worked so hard to adapt to all these changes, and in turn, it has made us a lot more resilient.”

Malecki agreed with Lara, saying, “Yes, resilient. I think that’s the perfect word to describe us.”

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