September 4, 2020

What Students Are Saying About Going Back to (Virtual) School

By Adrienne Vitt

It’s been said over and over, this school year will be unlike any other—with some students learning from home, some wearing masks and taking new health precautions, and an undeniable call from communities to address systemic racism and inequities in Minnesota. Worries about new teachers, friendships, schools, etc. are overshadowed and combined with a host of new questions.

We connected with a group of students—Mylazia, Kovonna, Jaidyn, Taye, and Annie—who shared their reflections and anticipations for the year to come. 

Some enjoy learning at home, finding fewer distractions. Many, though, have had challenges getting online and their families have experienced increased strain on resources to keep these students safe, fed, and in an environment where they can learn. Jaidyn shared: “Distance Learning gave me problems with technology. Sometimes it was too easy and not challenging enough. I’d rather be in school. It helps with my learning and wellness. I guess my school may offer hybrid this year. I really do want to learn and advance, but hybrid could be pointless and risky. I still don’t know.” 

Here, we capture reflections on a few key themes. As educators go back to school, and as policymakers consider the needs facing students, we hope student voices like these will stay at the center.

“At home, we can do our work with little distraction and get one-on-one help.”

“My mom is having us do distance learning or home school. We’re okay with our environment at home while distance learning. At school, we feel they’re lots of distractions that make it hard to concentrate. But at home, we can do our work with little distraction and get the one-on-one help that we need to complete our assignments. Our home environment is more relaxing than our school environment, so it makes it easier for us to learn.” – Mylazia McPipe (10th grade) and Kovonna McPipe (9th grade)

“The crazy thing is, I am not even a huge fan of school itself, but I actually can say I miss it now.” 

“I have had a hard time in schools before and things were finally consistent and working out for me when this happened; so it was really hard to stop out of the blue one day and not go back. The crazy thing is, I am not even a huge fan of school itself, but I actually can say I miss it now. Fall is the best time, wearing hoodies without being judged or getting in trouble, reuniting with friends we did not get to see over the summer, football (as a player), and going to games with friends, homecoming, or other hangouts. That’s really what keeps me going. Also what about science labs? How do we do that now? Everything seems so strange.” – Taye Clinton (10th grade)

“I’m one of the people that struggles with learning outside of school … But I’m concerned for my safety at the same time.”

“I’m a little concerned because some people don’t work well outside of school and need that extra help to succeed. I’m one of the people that struggles with learning outside of school, because I feel like the information goes in one ear and out the other. This spring, I noticed people slack off, thinking we were on break. And when we are in school, how is that supposed to look? How are you gonna learn, because you can’t have contact? But I’m concerned for my safety when it comes to being in school right now.” – Jaidyn Belton (10th grade)

“School is a social place for me and helps with my mental health. But we will have so many different rules because of distancing and masks; it may not even be worth it going part-time. That said, I do better in class, working hands-on, and next to peers. I do better with a daily schedule, meeting with teachers when struggling, with social interactions with friends, and access to fitness. I have more cultural interactions at school which helps me too. On the plus side, being at home means I am safe and not at risk for COVID. I can sleep in sometimes, wear my pajamas, be around my family and cat more.” – Taye Clinton (10th grade)

“Sometimes lunch and the internet have been a problem.”

“We mostly have the things that we need. Sometimes lunch and the internet has been a problem. But we’re not worried” – Mylazia McPipe (10th grade) and Kovonna McPipe (9th grade)

“This spring, my classes were often short and we had nothing to do for the rest of the day. I used to spend 10-12 hours at school, because I had stuff to do before or after. This summer, I was just home doing nothing. We do not have money or resources at my home to do extra stuff. My mom does not have a computer, printer, office or learning space to help me much. We had to upgrade our internet which cost more. Before we barely had service. The hotspot the school gave me didn’t work. We had to move in the middle of all this. Everything was terrible timing.” – Taye Clinton  (10th grade)  

 “As a senior who graduated in 2020, a lot of college applications and financial aid packaging has been all over the place. Right now, I’m very concerned about how I’m going to pay for college, because I’m a student of low income and I don’t want to take out loans. If I’m taking out loans, I would have to take out both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. I do have a laptop, but it’s an old laptop and it’s slow. I’m trying to save up for a new laptop, but it’s been pretty hard because a decent laptop is expensive.” – Annie Moua, College Freshman.

“It is important that I organize with other students of color.”

“One thing I am looking forward to in college is organizing with [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] (BIPOC) on campus to make changes in the education system. I think that institutes were built to discriminate and limit BIPOC, so it is important that I organize with other students of color(s) to shape this school into our homes where we will be staying at for four-plus years.” – Annie Moua, College Freshman

George Floyd was killed, and not all my teachers understood what that meant. My mom wrote a letter to the school but nothing changed. I do not want to experience that again. They already do not value black lives, so I wonder what happens next. They had the entire summer to make things better than spring. So I hope they do not let us down. Because it does not seem or feel better so far.” – Taye Clinton  (10th grade)

Student comments have been edited for length, but otherwise appear as originally submitted.