Through the pandemic’s last three months, many have rightfully lamented the losses the COVID-19 crisis has inflicted on students, particularly the class of 2020. Certainly the coronavirus has taken countless treasured experiences from young people such as companionship with friends, athletics, music and drama performances, proms and commencement ceremonies.
However, with these painful sacrifices the pandemic has also imparted life lessons that youth might not have acquired until a much riper age, if ever.
“I’m learning from this situation that family means a lot and it’s really important to always take care of each other,” wrote one.
As the spring semester ends following months of distance learning under shelter in place orders, I asked my high school students to write about how they are coping with the coronavirus and what they have learned from it.
In the 60 responses I received, the teens expressed loss, isolation, boredom and fear. Students wrote that they feel “imprisoned,” “terrified” and “robbed of my past life.”
Yet they also documented ways that the pandemic elevated their awareness and maturity.
For some, those expressions concerned practical matters like health and hygiene.
“I’ve learned to wash your hands and to take all the precautions,” shared a student.
“I always think twice before I touch things now,” expressed another.
For others, the situation has increased their interest in exercise and nature.
“I also learned the importance of going outside… I’m running two to five miles a day,” revealed a boy.
“I’ve learned to appreciate nature more, due to the growth of our garden and from my walks around my neighborhood as well as the trails near my house,” wrote a girl.
Several of the teens have taken the opportunity to pursue personal growth.
“Although the quarantine has been difficult, it allowed me more time to study for specific subjects and pick up old hobbies again.”
“Self-quarantine gave me the opportunity to work on my art skills a lot and I am so happy because it makes me proud of myself that I am improving and challenging myself by drawing.”
“I’ve also been making a lot of music, playing all sorts of instruments. All this time has been excellent for practicing.”
Many expressed newfound appreciation for their families and spending time with them.
“I am learning to value the time we spend with each other.”
“I am very thankful that I have my parents and brother with me, and I’ve been trying to put in extra effort to call my grandparents who are more lonely.”
“I have been spending a lot of time with my sisters and my family. It has been nice to build our relationships with one another and spend time doing what we haven’t done in a long time. I am learning the value of simplicity and prioritizing relationships.”
Other writings reflected perspective, maturity and community awareness.
“I do definitely miss the routine of regular school. I wish I had appreciated the privilege to learn with others together.”
“There are a lot of things in this world that we took for granted way too much, and when this all blows over, people need to be way more appreciative of their situation, where they live and how lucky they are.”
“The freedom you have when you are able to leave your house is something that you shouldn’t take for granted.”
“I finally realized that school and work are not actually too bad.”
“I became more independent with doing my homework. I’ve learned to figure things out in my own way.”
“I am very appreciative of all the doctors and nurses that are risking their lives to help people.”
COVID-19 is forcing young people to grow up ahead of schedule. Their elders should be proud of the way they are doing so. Teens in my school’s community have cared for younger siblings, made hundreds of masks, donated money to hospitals and volunteered for relief efforts. This teacher finds their resilience, optimism and concern for others inspiring.
“No matter what life throws at you, you have to get up and keep going. It is the only way that you will be able to make a difference in the world.”
The kids are all right.
Matt Johanson, author of the guidebook “Sierra Summits: A Guide to 50 Peak Experiences in California’s Range of Light,” teaches social studies and journalism at Castro Valley High School.