If you’ve had a tough time adjusting to this new “normal”, you’re not alone. I share my story, as well as offer solutions for students in need of alternative learning.
It was Monday morning, approximately 7:45 am, the announcements just finished, and my principal said over the loudspeaker, “we will be in school for as long as possible, but due to unprecedented times we will need students to empty their lockers and take everything home.”
That was March 2nd, 2020. That week I had three panic attacks in school and was missing classes for it. My teachers were beyond gracious, but I was fed up with myself and my anxiety. Luckily, my school had a psychologist that validated what I felt until I could see a therapist on my own.
Two weeks later, on Friday, March 13th, 2020, we were sent home for the now-infamous “two weeks.” I haven’t stepped foot in my high school since. I didn’t get a prom, graduation, and took classes over zoom. I was locked in a room with my little sister and we did classes together. Days became jumbled and time seemed irrelevant outside of my scheduled zoom classes. I eventually got that therapist I was looking for, and some medication for my anxious thoughts, but that didn’t seem to help much. I still had trouble figuring out what day it was given the continuous COVID Zoom cycle.
Fast forward to my first year of college. I had a completely asynchronous schedule that did not help me at all. COVID-permitting, I volunteered which led me to an internship that helped time feel real again. The internship also made me realize: I need to go to college. I could not do another year of Zoom. So, I signed up for housing and in-person classes.
Despite COVID, I moved in and began my classes in person. It was amazing. I had a schedule, friends, and some control over my life. My panic attacks died out and I began to feel like I had ownership of my life and myself again. Between weekly therapy and daily classes, my anxiety ebbed and flowed almost naturally. I decreased my medication with each check-in.
Then, winter break happened. By this time, I had a job, space, and friends. The days seemed concrete and I could balance my time between my work life and social life. It helped tremendously. The balance helped my mental health so much that I began to weigh whether or not I needed medication at all. About two weeks into my break, the university announced that we would spend “two weeks” online. It hit me like a train, once again. I started to lose hope. I was scared how this uncertainty would affect my mental health.
Obviously, I wasn’t alone in my sentiment. After all over a half a million students dropped out of college in 2020. Many didn’t have the resources to sustain online learning. A lack of accessibility to wifi, a work space, or even a computer was a serious problem for students. Plus the mental health aspect made 2020 an exponentially harder year for students of all ages.
On the other hand, I saw a petition to make the semester remote. Initially, I felt beyond angry, I was enraged. The rage came from a place of crippling fear for my mental health. Then I realized, there is a solution, and we can have both. We must expand majors for students who want to be online, or have to be online. In terms of being a student who doesn’t have those resources, we need universities to expand financial aid and apply it equitably.
The solution isn’t completely in-person or completely online, it’s accommodating students. Students like me, who need a mental separation between home and work. Students with autoimmune disorders or other disabilities that may benefit from an online course load. Universities must do a better job of rounding themselves out and accommodating students for the sake of students’ mental health.