How 4 important parts of students’ daily lives are being altered by COVID

More than three-quarters of students this spring reported facing one of several obstacles to learning
By: | August 23, 2021

High schoolers this spring said they learned as much in school as they were learning pre-COVID but also reported rising depression, stress and anxiety, a new survey has found.

Students’ sense of belonging also rebounded, according to Youth Truth, an advocacy organization that has polled students on their academic and social-emotional concerns prior to COVID and several times during the pandemic.

In both the spring 2021 survey and one done before COVID, 43% of students said they felt like a part of the school community. That number had dipped to 30% in spring 2020.

Pre-pandemic, 57% of students told Youth Truth they were learning a lot every day. That number was the same in spring 2021, after sliding to 39% in spring 2020.

However, only 37% of students said they found their virtual classes interesting, and less than a third said the teacher noticed if they weren’t paying attention.

“The findings are clear: students have incredible insights about how school can be more engaging, inclusive and relevant,” YouthTruth Executive Director Jen Wilka said. “It’s up to us, as adults, to embrace their insights in our COVID recovery plans and not just go back to business as usual.”

Here are some more details about the four key areas examined in the spring 2021 survey, which covered more than 206,000 students in nearly 600 schools:

1. Social, emotional and academic development

More than three-quarters of students this spring reported facing one of several obstacles to learning, with just about half reporting feeling depressed, stressed or anxious. Distractions at home, fears about their health or the health of their family, and a lack of internet access were also commonly reported barriers.

Female students and those who don’t identify as male reported far higher levels of depression, stress and anxiety.

For all students, their levels of depression and anxiety rose as their feelings of having a trusted adult to reach out to declined steadily.

A Youth Truth animation offers an overview.

2. Inequity persisted

Compared to their white classmates, Black and Latinx students reported more obstacles, such as a lack of access to computers and feeling unsafe at home and at school.

More Latinx students reporting not having a teacher available to help with schoolwork. About 20% percent of Latinx students said they lacked teacher support compared to 14% of all other students.

3. Growing respect & teacher support

A positive development during the pandemic is that more students reported feeling respected by their teachers or other adults at school. These feelings rose from 57% pre-COVID to 70% in spring 2021.

These numbers held across various demographic groups. For instance, 70% of students who receive free- or reduced lunch, 75% of students in special education and 72% of students who identify as gay or lesbian felt respected by an adult.

But the percentage was lowest, only 65%, among Black students.

4. Plans for the future

The number of students who have changed their post-high school college plans jumped significantly during the pandemic. In spring 2020, 18% said their plans had changed, but that number jumped to 28% in 2021.

Fewer students said they planned to attend a four-year college while more said they would find a full-time job.