Reflecting on the "AFT Fireside Chat — This Is Us"
As education stakeholders continue to debate the impact of the pandemic and distance learning on students, educators much leverage the voices of students in the contentious and courageous conversations that focus on them. Students deserve a seat at the decision-making table.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 16, 2021, attendees to an online AFT sponsored Fireside Chat program, heard from a student panel how the pandemic had affected and shaped the final year of their high school experiences. The students offered diverse perspectives on how young people have been affected, what they need in this pivotal moment as well as where we go from here. The discussion was a fascinating and informative; a first-hand report on how the high school seniors on the panel dealt with the shut-down and their absence from school, friends, and society in general.
The students did miss seeing their friends but found solace in being able to connect online, through Facebook or texting with their friends. Several spoke of the power of networking and calling friends for academic support. For some, simply being able to interact more with family meant a lot to them. Certainly, COVID-19 imposed lots of restrictions, but the students preferred to focus on the things they did, were able to do and how much they had developed because of the situation.
One panelist reminded us of the old cliché “You can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot force it to drink.” In that regard the panelist took the view that COVID-19 induced lockdown forced him to confront his own responsibility to focus on his education. His view is that the lockdown was a plus for inculcating a sense of self-motivation. He however, expressed sadness at missing the companionship of his fellow seniors in the last year of high school.
Nevertheless, according to the panelists, COVID-19 made them gain ownership of their learning. There was no one to march them to class, they had to be responsible to show up online. Other students on the panel reported taking time during COVID-19 to re-evaluate life and strengthen the core value of perseverance. The panelists maintained that self-reliance was a good stimulant to ensure that schoolwork got done, in the absent of the usual classroom setting. The students placed emphasis on having conversations with friends and family and even their pet dogs.
If stressors existed, the students sought self-care in activities such as meditation which provided a space for garnering a degree of inner peace. Other suggestions included praying, journaling, walking in the park, reading, talking to a pet dog or going to the gym as ways to overcome demotivation and lack of engagement attendant to the shutdown. One student called for resources for students requiring mental health counseling.
In some instances, the COVID-19 experience, gave students the impetus for self-care and to be more productive. The schedule was problematic since she felt that they simply moved an in-person schedule to an online environment, which affords little or no time to decompress as movement between classes would permit.
Students ended by acknowledging that understanding people became difficult during the pandemic as the in-person contact disappeared to be replaced by virtual reality.
Certainly, these students survived the doldrums imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and pointed a path forward. Their noteworthy strategies should be recorded and shared with others as a guide on how to survive quarantine during the time of a pandemic or other public emergency which necessitate social distancing.
Dr. Rosalind LaRocque, who organized the Fireside Chat appreciated the candor of the student panel. They provided good insight into various coping mechanisms for the conditions imposed by COVID-19. Sarah Elwell, Professional Development Coordinator for the Washington Teachers Union was the moderator and did a fabulous job.