Pandemic affected social growth while altering perspectives
Two months after returning to full-time live classes following a year and a half of virtual learning, and limited in-person schooling repeatedly interrupted by quarantines and canceled classes due to COVID-19 infections, Haldane administrators and students say they have emerged as changed people in a changed environment.
“My social skills have gone down, and I have started to value people and friends a lot more than I did before,” said Zohra Kapoor, a freshman. “Being in a room with someone without any restriction is almost impossible, and it’s hard to be with anybody properly.”
Haldane resumed in-person instruction full-time in September, entering a “new normal” where learning is no longer taking place from isolated bedrooms and home offices, but masks and social distancing are still required in school buildings. Julia Sniffen, the Haldane High School principal, and Scott Many, its social worker, each said the pandemic stifled the maturation process for teenagers limited by the pandemic from socializing with peers and family members.
Between their freshman and sophomore years, many students start figuring out who they are in terms of values and beliefs and develop their own ideas separate from those of parents and other trusted adults, Many said. It can be a painful period, one that leaves a lot of students upset as longtime friends gravitate toward other social circles.
Because of the pandemic, that process has been set back a year, creating a gap in development that students are starting to close between the sophomore and junior years, he said. “Some of those conflicts between friends are coming up a little bit more, but you are seeing it more in older kids.”
Sniffen said she worries that the ability to communicate has been affected, especially since so many students already converse via cellphone and computer. Even if it is face-to-face, “you’re in a mask, so you are not seeing expressions, you’re not picking up on cues that are so important when we talk about emotional intelligence and reading a room. In terms of teaching and learning, that has had an impact on some of the things we find important in school.”
Yet, both Sniffen and students said the pandemic has been a teacher. The ordeal of losing daily in-person contact has made some students more independent and forced staff and students to become more conscious of friendships, family bonds and life beyond the school walls.
Sniffen said some students have returned to school with improved time-management and organizational skills honed by months of remote learning, away from the watchful eyes of teachers and staff.
Chase Coulson, a junior, said he is one of those students. He became more determined to finish daily assignments, a mindset that “evolved over time and made me the student I am now,” he said. While some students have become “more chaotic,” others are more mature and laid-back.
“COVID has changed me a lot,” he said. “Being in lockdown for so long gave me a chance to reflect on myself. I became more observant; I altered the way I interacted with others and I became more mature.”
Kapoor and Sniffen said their outlooks on life have also changed.
Kapoor said she “gained a more grateful perspective of being outside more” as people escaped the lockdown by spending more time visiting parks, hiking, bicycling and doing other outdoor activities where the risk of infection was low.
“I have realized that it [outdoors] is an amazing place to be,” she said. “I have learned to be more grateful for my friends, family and the opportunities that I have missed or could have missed due to the pandemic.”
Sniffen said the pandemic helped her “pause and reflect,” and losing family members and loved ones to COVID-19 heightened her appreciation of relationships with family, Haldane students and staff and the Cold Spring community.
More people are holding tighter to things that matter to them, she said.
The principal said she has seen more people dedicating themselves to thing they are passionate about. “Haldane brings me meaning, it brings me joy. Because of that I feel like giving more to a place that we care about and we value,” she said.
Going forward, some other things have changed, but not for the better, said Many.
The pandemic aggravated an already-existing partisan divide and “pushed people to stop listening” to each other and having healthy debates, he said. While a less-restrictive “normal” becomes more realistic, “we need to keep in mind that we are not the same.”
“If we want to advance as a society, we need to start learning to talk to each other again,” he said.