What Students Are Saying About Their Hopes and Concerns for the 2020-21 School Year – The New York Times

current events conversation

Teenage comments in response to our recent writing prompts, and an invitation to join the conversation.

Welcome back to another year of Current Events Conversation, in which, each week, we honor our favorite student comments posted to our writing prompts.

If you’re new here, here’s how it works: Every school day we publish writing prompts that invite teenagers to react to the news by sharing their opinions and personal experiences. Then, on Thursday afternoons, we select several prompts from the last week and highlight the best student comments on them in this roundup.

How can you get your comment featured? It’s easy. Just post a response to any of our writing prompts — that is, our Student Opinion questions or Picture Prompts. We’re not looking for perfectly polished essays; instead we want to hear your honest thoughts told in your unique voice.

Here are a few tips:

  • Share personal stories related to the prompt that include relevant and compelling details.

  • State an opinion that’s supported by strong evidence or reason, either from the article you read or your own experiences.

  • Offer a unique take or perspective on the topic that you don’t see others talking about.

  • Start a conversation with other students by hitting the “reply” or “recommend” buttons. Ask questions, share connections or add onto what they said.

  • Follow The Times commenting standards and be thoughtful about how your comment might be read by others.

Usually we round up comments on a few different prompts from throughout the week, but, today, we’re highlighting responses to just one: “What Are Your Hopes and Concerns for the New School Year?

Hundreds of teenagers responded to our question, detailing the challenges — and surprising advantages — they’re facing in this school year like no other. Many students described some of the very real detriments of distance learning, from inadequate equipment and technology glitches to lack of social interaction and confusing assignments. Others told of sleeping in and starting their first day in their pajamas. Several even offered words of encouragement to one another.

Thank you to all the teenagers from around the world who got this year off to a strong start — we heard from students in Oneonta, N.Y.; Recife, Brazil; Saudi Arabia; and many more places. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

Please note: All student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear as they were originally submitted.


Related ArticleCredit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

As I prepare for another online 7th grade class, I look back, seeing how much school has been upended. Instead of 6 classes, there are now only 3 a day. Instead of a classroom, the dining room table … But this may all change. Based on the current Covid-19 cases, we may be going into school, but with drastic changes. A hybrid schedule will be used, and there will be a lot of new rules. Even with half of the population on campus, which will be 900 kids, I still find these rules will be hard to enforce, and will create a lot of confusion. Students will be given a desk shield, which will be brought with them to other classes. Arrows on the floor will create chaos, with some students forgetting which way and some “forgetting” on purpose … Even with this, I will be glad to be back in class. I get to see friends, be in person, have things be … a sort of normal.

Finn C., San Marcos, CA

My school started in mid August and we were given the option of staying at home or returning to school in person. Although 90% of the student body went back to school, I decided to stay home for the first two weeks to see how well my school would manage the situation. My school required masks for all students and since we’re a small school we were able to distance the desks about 3 feet apart from each other. There were also temperature checks put in place before entering the building. These safety measures and many more allowed for a successful transition for the new bizarre school year. I went back to school last week and I was very excited to see all my friends and say hello to all my new teachers. Even though we were all wearing masks I could tell how excited my friends were to see me back in school.

Rishi, Ontario, Canada

Although I cannot interact with my friends physically, I am still able to text and call them through a variety of medians. In addition, being at home has allowed me access to technology which can serve useful for research, and personally, teachers have become more understanding and even declined the workload from classes. The high school itself has remained active through weekly videos regarding the news around the school and our peers and has renewed clubs throughout. The year is quite different to years prior, but I believe it also presents many opportunities to stay safe, maintain good grades, and yet have fun in a way we may have not thought of or was possible prior.

Vivek Cherian, Tracy, CA

For me, distance learning isn’t too much of a challenge. I know that I’m not speaking for everyone though when I say that though, because I know that the teachers have had to put a lot of time and effort to make these distance meetings work, and not all students have the same conditions I do. I personally like the distance learning environment. Instead of having to focus in a crowded classroom, I get to relax a little in my room and have way less distractions … I will admit I really miss talking to my friends in person, and I feel bad for any new students who are looking for friends, but my friends and I are keeping in touch through texting and social media.

Tyler, United States

Virtual learning is something I enjoy more because I feel like it’s easier for me to focus because I am in a quiet environment and I can concentrate on my work rather than being in a class with students asking questions and talking to one another. Another reason why virtual learning is something I enjoy is because we get more sleep and we have more time to get up and make breakfast in the morning.

Shamiah Haywood, California

I am currently four weeks into the new methods of learning, and I would do anything to get back in school. Online is just so disorganized, I can’t understand directions I lose focus and it’s just difficult to navigate. One of my biggest fears for the school year is that I will not be able to understand certain things or certain website we use will be to unstable doing tests and quizzes that certain grades that I may not love will be out of my control. Now a year ago today I never would have thought I’d be saying this, but there is nothing I wouldn’t do to be back in the classroom.

Isaac Maaske, Glenbard West

School right now isn’t fun. I’m getting all these assignments due very early and not the usual 11:59 like most classes. My computer isn’t the fastest and its very slow and starts to buzz out. Its hard to learn when your computer starts to act up and can barely hear what they are saying. Many of us learn in different ways. For me its way easier to learn face to face

Joseph Wijangco, Vanden High School

I know junior year is supposed to be the hardest year in high school but I feel like now that it is online it is 10x worse than I could have ever prepared myself for. A lot of people go to school as an escape. You have resources like the library and teachers all around you. It is hard to transition from your home life to your school life if you are still at home. Personally, it is harder to find a setting in my house that is comfortable and quiet enough for me to sit there for at least 7 hours and work. I am constantly distracted by my family because I also need to help my little brother with school and my dogs bark all the time. I hope we can go to school maybe a few days a week soon.

Teilana Carr, Vanden High School, CA

Although online classes make it safe to learn in our current situation, I believe that we’re not really learning as much as we should. For me, hands-on, participative classes are the key to retaining knowledge. With the new change in schooling, this doesn’t often occur, making it extremely hard to learn new things and actually remember them. All of this isn’t even considering that students and teachers sometimes have poor internet quality, which leads to no learning at all.

Lilly N., Recife, Brazil

A lot of students like me have had trouble with the online learning. Staring at a screen for hours everyday gives students terrible migraines. There are a lot of my peers that are very social and miss having human contact. I hope when we do go back to school that the school will take precautions. Not all bad things have come from this year. People are becoming less dependent on other people and more independent. As much as I wish I could see into the future I can’t. The future is unknown. We can just hope for the best.

Camee Laton, Oneonta High School

Areli Gonzales, left, with her twin sister Andrea. “It’s hard learning on a computer, especially when my head starts to hurt and my eyes get dry from staring at the screen for too long,” said Areli, a sophomore in Tennessee. Related ArticleCredit…Andrea Morales for The New York Times

Online school is a struggle and definitely different than what I am used to. However, even though it’s tough to stay motivated during online school, it’s important to remember that this struggle isn’t permanent. This struggle isn’t personal. You are not struggling alone. You will get through online school with you classmates, with your teachers, and with your friends. Online school might not be your top choice for how to learn but when it’s the only option it’s important to not get discouraged. We will get through the hardships and have a successful school year as long as we allow ourselves to.

Julia Norton, Glenbard West

I believe every student has concerns about this new school year. Some may be worried about being new and not having any friends; others are sad since they won’t be able to practice the sports they love, others feel bad for not seeing their friends during their daily lives, and it goes on. Nonetheless, we have to keep our heads up and stay hopeful. In other words, I truly hope we can face this challenging situation with patience.

Amanda A., Recife, Brazil

Virtual school is going well for me when it comes to being flexible with the new schedule and how much work we are given, but one of the large problems with virtual schooling as a whole is that I am not able to see any of my friends and sometimes technical difficulties can get in the way. It has been a trouble getting used to it, but if you are hopeful enough, things will work out.

Connor Y., Cincinnati, Ohio

Clueless is the definition of what most of us are now. I don’t know what to expect about the next school year. It was tough for me to adapt to this new way of learning, and sometimes still is. The students feel overwhelmed or distracted, and I feel like I can’t handle the amount of work we often have … But despite all the insecurities of coming back to school, and is it going to be: full time, hybrid, or online, it doesn‘t matter because, in the end, we will figure out a way to make it work and enjoy it even if it gets a little complicated.

Marina M, Escola Americana do Recife, Brazil

With the Coronavirus Pandemic going on, many students are learning their curriculum in many new ways. Online school on zoom and google meets is now going on and many are very unhappy with it. Although we are still able to do this it has become very difficult. Everyone has their own struggles and issues with this system but for me specifically I have to balance both school work and my siblings work then having to work in the afternoon. This is difficult and has became a hard situation to go through but nonetheless I have learned to adapt and manage my time. This is a very difficult time and It is necessary for us to look on the bright side:)

Jessica Varela, Glenbard West High School

I am a new student in IPS I’m definitely proud of my choice of coming here because the school is very organized even in virtual school, I feel very safe since my classmates I got along with them on the first week and most of the teachers seem really nice, yes it is productive and helps you be creative and try new things. I’ve been prepared mentally and emotionally for months now. Advice I’d give to others struggling is just try your best to adapt, because as you do your assignments, take classes and much more you’ll realize time will move much faster.

Abdulateef Alsufayan, Saudi Arabia

I really wanted to go back to school this year but my parents wanted me to stay home. At first I didn’t agree with them and was really mad honestly, but after my grandma passed away from covid-19 I realized how much more life matters than being mad at my parents for making me stay home. My little brother has asthma and I would feel horrible If he got it from me.

Mary s, home

I believe that schools in California made the right choice to do online learning. I understand that it is difficult for many students, however we do not have any kind of handle on the Corona situation, and returning to school right now would only cause cases of Corona to increase dramatically. We can’t afford to go back to school yet.

Sam Patterson, Vanden High School, CA

I wish I could have gone back to school this semester but I know that I will go back next semester. I know it is better to stay home and risk not getting sick but I miss my friends and hanging out with them. But it is for the best not to get family sick. I hope all of this could go away soon and we all could go back to school but it looks like that is not happening any time soon. In the meantime, I can hang out with my close family and some friends that I’m quarantining with.

Amy Waligura, Nagel Middle School

Although I do wish to return to school and get rid of e-learning, I do not want to return to school if it is not going to be safe for the students and staff because in the end, even school is not worth risking the possibility of getting the virus and spreading it to your loved ones.

Ella Erickson, Glenbard West High School

This year is something out of a science fiction book, and not a good one. I feel like I’m missing out on my precious school life that I once had by participating in virtual school. I miss my ordinary life, taking the bus to school, talking with my friends in the morning breeze. Now I wake up every morning to a dull computer screen and a stuffy room. I miss going to school.

Nathaniel Soria, Vanden High School

This year is definitely strange. I feel isolated from my friends and from the rest of the world. We have moved to complete virtual learning. It doesn’t even feel like we are really back at school. On the first day I put a real shirt on, but wore my pajamas on the bottom.

Casey Zlatkus, Vacaville, CA

I also am hoping to stay friends with most of my friends because during this time it’s sometimes hard to stay connected at all times. Some concerns I have are not being able to go back because of the prevailing situation, I am also concerned about being able to stay focused in class because we are not in the normal class environment. Also, I’m concerned about all the time I will spend on screens because I get headaches from them.

Juliana Fauth, Oneonta High School

This school year I hope to get all A’s in my classes both semesters and to score well on the SAT and ACT. I also want to get at least a 4 on my 3 AP exams. My concerns are that I might not do as well as previous years because of distractions during remote learning. I’m also worried that the AP tests might end up being different like last year and I won’t have as great of an opportunity to succeed.

Grace McCarthy, Illinois

Things are not going to be perfect and we may feel like we are drowning in a sea of emotions, but that is okay. We have to learn to normalize the oddities and push to be the best versions of ourselves through all of this change. I hope that this school year teaches our society to not be so hard on ourselves, and instead learn to be satisfied with “trying out best.”

Mary Crum, Glenbard West High School

My advice for other students starting online school for the first time is designating a place to do work that isn’t your bed. It’s made it that much easier to be in the mood to do school work.

Maleah Brockington, Oneonta Senior High School, NY

I am in my junior year and I can understand some of the nervousness when it comes to grades. Virtual school can also be distracting, and can cause procrastination … The advice id give to struggling students is to remove all your distractions including but not limited to: video games, cell phones, tv, etc. Removing these distractions and focusing solely on school will force the transition from summer break to work.

Abubaker Jassim, Al Doha al janubiya, Saudi Arabia

Not only do you have to worry about parents or siblings walking around making noise in the background, but it’s easy to just turn off your camera and do other things rather than paying attention.

My advice to students in e-learning is to do your best to keep on task. Try to find a relatively quiet room to work from, and if possible lock the door or establish that no one should come in during school hours. Also, charge your phone on the other side of the room, so you aren’t tempted to use it during class. Take notes, pay attention, and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

Ollie Geissal, Glenbard West High School

… I have prepared for this school year by staying calm, and going with the flow. My best advice for someone struggling with online classes would be to set a solid schedule of what needs to be done and when it should be done. I would also say, don’t be afraid to ask your teachers questions, because this type of learning is new for everyone.

emily, tracy

My advice would be to take school easy on yourself and to not overwork yourself at all. Making a whole time table for what you’ll do when school starts helps a lot. If you’re still in summer break try to wake up early and make test runs as if it’s school. Also try to readjust to doing homework and setting up your room to be a study like office. A laptop, pencil and notebook is enough.

Omar Alturki, Saudi Arabia

This has not been a good year. We have faced a global pandemic that threatens us as a species. I, in America, have been forced to grapple with our original sin, slavery, which has haunted our country since its founding. Hundreds of students have had to change the way they learn. It has not been a good year. I have found my record of these times defined by absence. In my senior speech I wrote for my high school that no one will ever hear. In the pictures I have on my phone of Times Square, empty for what will probably be the only instance in my lifetime. This year has challenged me in so many ways. However, I have found solace from the sickly absence which has haunted my year in a quote from a comic book called “The Sandman” by Neil Gaiman, “It’s astonishing how much trouble one can get oneself into if one works at it. And astonishing how much trouble on can get oneself out of if one simply assumes that everything will, somehow or other, work out for the best.” I will continue to assume that everything will, in fact, work out for the best. It is hope that fills the absences in my life. I have found myself becoming more hopeful. I have found myself looking forward to what is to come. As freshman in college, I find myself looking forward to the uncertainty that the next couple of years will bring as I find the certainty of uncertainty, in a strange way, comforting. I know that I am changing, and all I can hope for is that I am changing for the better.

Noah Rubin, University of Rochester