August 11, 2020

Uncertain, nervous, and stressed: Students head back to school amid a new reality

A recent survey from The Allstate Foundation reveals how teens are feeling as they enter this unprecedented school year.

Whether going to school online or in person, many young people are concerned about the future, a recent survey from The Allstate Foundation found. Photo by Rubén Rodriguez on Unsplash

Most teens ended their 2019-2020 school year remotely—no class parties, no proms, and for seniors, no processions across the stage to receive their diplomas in person. For the students going back to school this season, there are more no’s and, what’s worse, a lot of not sures.

On top of worrying about their grades, teens are entering this unprecedented school year with increased anxiety and are more worried about their future than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey from The Allstate Foundation revealed.

“One thing that I have been stressing over is a lot of the time at school I would rely on my relationships with my teachers to help me get by. I really get to know them and they get to know me,” said 16-year-old Kaiyah Carlisle, who will be starting her junior year at Berkeley High School in Northern California online. “This year, I’m starting with all new teachers. I’m nervous I won’t be able to make those connections with teachers. I’ll be on my own.”

The survey, which polled 1,000 teens ages 13-18, reveals that Kaiyah is not alone. It found that this generation is aware of the monumental social and political challenges in the world—it’s leading them to rethink their place in it.

According to the results, 78 percent of teens are worried about COVID-19 and 68 percent are worried about racism as they head into the school year after a summer defined by quarantines and historic protests calling for racial equity.

Source: The Allstate Foundation Return Concern survey

The survey also shows teens are just as worried about the 2020 presidential election (66 percent) as they are about getting good grades. And their worries about mental health (56 percent) outpaced their worries about their physical health (49 percent).

It’s not surprising, given the new layer of concern the pandemic applies to everyday activities, from spending socially distant time with friends to standing six feet apart while waiting in line at the grocery store checkout.

“Not every day is guaranteed,” said 16-year-old Myles Ford, a rising junior at Envision Academy, in Oakland, California. “Sure we have each other, but you never know, someone might catch ‘the rona’ one day and that’s it.”

The pandemic is also forcing teens to re-evaluate their future. Nearly three-fourths responded that they are more worried about their future now than they were six months ago.

It’s made teens like Kaiyah, who is part of the Leaders in Training program at the Oakland nonprofit Acta Non Verba that her mom Kelly Carlisle runs, think about the career paths they might like to pursue. For her, it’s to become a teacher.

“Seeing the frontline workers and the essential workers, these are the people who are working all the time and we appreciate them so much more now,” she said. “I think about what my career could look like, would I be needed?

“It definitely has made me think, but I still want to be a teacher. I still would love to do that, just not over the internet.”

An aspiring anesthesiologist, Myles, who is also part of Acta Non Verba’s Leaders in Training program, wants to study medicine because he’s motivated to help people.

But first, he has to get through a challenging junior year. Envision Academy is also conducting classes fully online. It’s hard to focus, he admits, when you’re multitasking. “I have the audio on so I’m listening, but I’m probably looking at an article on another window,” he said. “During class, I’m looking at more coronavirus news.”

Visit The Allstate Foundation for more information about this survey and to find free Social and Emotional Learning resources that can help students of all ages build important life skills.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.
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