As debates rage across the country over whether schools should teach online or in person, students like Sean Vargas-Arcia have experienced the pros and cons of both.
“I’m much happier personally,” said Sean, 16, a junior at Yonkers Middle High School in New York. As Covid-19 prices have fluctuated, he has gone back and forth between online classes and personally attends two days a week.
It’s stressful to worry about getting coronavirus in school, said Sean, who has health problems, including epilepsy, and a grandmother who lives with her family. But his online classes wear him down.
“When I’m home, completely distant, it’s more like a sluggish feeling,” he said. “I usually feel cramped and tired and I just don’t want anything to do with school anymore.”
There is no doubt that the pandemic has been hard on children, whether their schools have reopened or not. A stream of research in recent months has found alarming spikes ind depression and anxiety among children and their parents. Several studies have shown that students – especially those with disabilities and from low-income families learn less than they should.
But one new study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, is one of the first to shed light on the differences between students whose classes have been exclusively online and those who have been able to attend in person at least one day a week .
All this week, watch “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” and the “TODAY” program for more on “Kids Under Pressure,” a series examining the impact of the pandemic on children
The survey last fall of more than 10,000 students in 12 U.S. colleges, including Yonkers, found that students who had spent time in the classroom reported lower stress and worry than their online peers.
While just over half of all students surveyed said they were more stressed about school by 2020 than they had been in the past, the issue was more pronounced among distance learners. Eighty-four percent of distance students reported fatigue, headaches, insomnia, or other stress-related disorders, compared with 82 percent of students who were in the classroom for a few days and 78 percent of students who were in the classroom full-time.
Distance students were also a little less likely to say they had an adult they could go to with a personal problem, and a little more likely to worry about grades than their peers in the classroom. And distance students did more homework and reported an average of 90 extra minutes a week, the study found.
“Distance learning – and I do not think it’s a surprise to anyone – is just more challenging,” said Sarah Miles, director of research and programs at Challenge Success and one of the leaders in the study. “It’s harder for children to feel connected. It is harder for teachers, for the adults in the school to connect, and that is a basic element. For children to learn, they need to feel secure and connected. Everything else rests on top of that. ”
Challenge Success, an educational research and school support organization, surveys most students in dozens of schools a year to help teachers and administrators better meet their needs. The 12 schools surveyed this fall, in Arizona, Texas, New York and the Midwest, are demographically similar to the nation in terms of student family income, though not necessarily in terms of race, Miles said.
The debate over the reopening of American schools has become more and more fraught with parents and political leaders including President Joe Biden loudly calling for schools to reopen and teachers in some parts of the country threatening to walk away from the job Security Question. Friday Biden Administration released guidelines for how to safely reopen schools, advice on precautions, including masks, social distance and contact tracking.
Miles said the new research does not mean schools need to rush to reopen before putting safety protocols in place. Instead, she said it shows the importance of making sure teachers and staff feel comfortable returning to the classroom.
“If they do not feel safe and supported, the children do not feel safe and supported,” she said.
But at the same time, she stressed that the study underscores the harm online learning does.
“We need to prioritize getting to a place where everyone is happy to go back to school,” Miles said, “because it’s urgent.”
‘A little magic’ in the classroom
All of Jordan Salhoobi’s chemistry students at Yonkers Middle High School receive the same lessons at the same time.
Those who wear masks in his classroom hear the same lectures and watch the same demonstrations as students watching livestream at home. When he writes or draws on his computer tablet, students at home see the same pictures on their screens that students in the classroom see projected on the wall.
But Salhoobi’s students are not getting the same benefits, he said.
“In space, you get more eye contact,” he said. “On the screen, the child could often sit in front of a window. You can not see them, so it is difficult to ensure that they are attentive. ”
Although it is difficult to compare his students’ performance, Salhoobi said his personal students sometimes stay after class for extra help that online students rarely ask for. Online students seem more reluctant to raise their hands and they often look tired.
“I think going to school and getting dressed makes the kids feel more like they have a purpose in life,” he said.
When Yonkers began offering a hybrid option in October that allows students to participate in person either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, most students chose to stay online. Only about a third of students currently participate in the hybrid program, said a spokeswoman for the Yonkers district, leaving many classrooms with only a handful of students.
Yonkers principal Jade Sharp said she has not seen significant differences in grades or test scores between distance and hybrid students, but that she was not surprised to see survey data showing her distance students are more stressed.
“I feel sorry for our students in this Covid situation,” she said, noting that many of her 1,100 high school students have responsibilities at home, such as taking care of younger siblings in addition to their schoolwork. Three-quarters come from families that the state considers financially disadvantaged, including many from immigrant families. Some have parents who have lost their jobs. Some lost loved ones to Covid-19. And many are pushing back to the social and political tensions of the last year.
The school goes out of its way to support students, Sharp said, limiting tuition to half days on “wellness Wednesdays” and hosting after-school clubs focused on mental health.
But none of that offers what even a few days in the classroom interacting with teachers and peers can do, said Tara O’Sullivan, who teaches American history at Yonkers.
“There’s a little magic that can happen in a classroom,” O’Sullivan said. “There is nothing like the relationship and energy of children working with each other, the kind of flow of conversations and dismissive ideas that are naturally present in person.”
Tanya Palmer, 16, Yonkers junior, has managed to keep up with her grades this year – but only because she puts extra time into compensating for what she lacks in class.
“I do not want to really learn much,” said Tanya, who chose to stay away to protect her 75-year-old grandfather, who lives with his family. “There’s a lot to teach myself things.”
Things have gotten better since the beginning of the school year, when technical errors were more common and teachers were still adapting. But when she finishes her five hours of online instruction each day, she often stares down at hours of extra research and reading to actually learn the material.
“I get a lot of headaches and strain in my eyes,” she said. “My eyes are so dry and I also get back pain.”
The NBC News and Challenge Success survey found that only students online in Yonkers reported an average of 31 minutes more homework on the weekend and 70 more minutes during the week than their classmates in the hybrid program. Although most students did not get anywhere close nine hours of sleep recommended for adolescents reports just over six hours, hybrid students reported sleeping on average approx. 10 minutes more at night than their online peers.
“It’s 10 o’clock and I see her on the computer,” said Tanya Gonzalez, Tanya’s mother. “I get close to her and maybe think she’s watching a video, but no, she’s doing class work.”
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Sean Vargas-Arcia had more energy when he was in school two days a week, and more ways to understand his courses, he said, recalling how he struggled last semester to visualize the molecular structure of fatty acids known as lipids. , until he saw a 3 -D model in his biology classroom.
“I was like, ‘Oh, it helps,’ because I could actually see it,” he said.
These days, however, Sean is back to being fully online. So few students returned when the school reopened last month after closing for a few weeks due to higher infection rates that he was the only student in some of his classes. He decided that there was not much point, so now he wakes up, walks across his room and sits down in front of a computer from 6 p.m. 07.45 to kl. 13 without a break. A skew in his schedule put his lunch time at the end of the day.
With college applications looming, Sean worries that his grades in online classes will suffer, costing him his shot at his first-choice, Brown University, next year.
“There’s a lot of anxiety surrounding thinking about my future,” he said.
He also struggles with isolation from his friends. He used the quiet hours during the summer for reflection and came out to family and friends as a transgender in September. He announced his name change on social media, but most of his classmates have not seen him in person since then.
Everything has been harder this year for students at Yonkers, an academically selective school that draws a diverse mix of students – half Latino, 20 percent white, 15 percent Asian, 13 percent black – from the city of the same name just north of New York City . Sports and leisure programs are largely gone, and school events, such as the gala that Yonkers traditionally throws in the spring to celebrate the school’s many cultures, have been canceled.
For some students, it’s a small price to pay to keep their families safe, said Emma Maher, 17, a junior who chose the online option because her sister has asthma and her grandmother has a compromised immune system.
“The sacrifice is worth it,” she said, “because I value the health of my family and loved ones.”
But educators worry about the long-term impact on a generation of children who are stressed, struggling to learn and miss their friends.
“You took so much away from these kids,” said Salhoobi, the chemistry teacher. “You took away sports. You took away interactions. It is as if children are in prison now that they are 100 percent online. ”
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