Middle Schools Manage the Pandemic

     All Ursuline students understand the struggles of experiencing school through a computer. We wake up to the UA Live team’s announcements and start our first Teams call at promptly 8:45 and conclude the day at 3:45 with the text reading, “Saint Angela watch over the days of our youth. Saint Ursula protect our future.” The school has not proven to be easy but try to imagine the day as a middle schooler, not yet independent and not even comfortable with the flow of school in general.

     Middle school is the prime time for children’s development in the areas of social interaction, independence, and communication.

     “Adolescents ‘social brains’ are developing quickly, and they are hoovering up information from the world around them to figure out who they are and how they fit in,” said The Hechinger Report in an article about the affects of the pandemic on middle school-age chidlren.

     This social development, however, is increasingly halted when social interaction is replaced with email and face-to-face contact with a computer screen.

     When asked what she noted as the most difficult part of the student’s pandemic school experience is, administrator as Prince of Peace Middle School in Dallas Mrs. Sulli said, “The students’ biggest struggle is not being able to mingle with their peers or experience a change of scenery.”

     The students at Prince of Peace begin their day with temperature checks and head straight to their homerooms, where they stay as the teachers rotate, room to room, on mobile carts with their supplies. The students stay stationary even through lunch, a time usually dedicated to a release of energy and time with friends, but now the sacred 45 minutes is spent in silence.

     Sulli said she also fears the long-term effects of online and hybrid learning. She said, “I believe that e-learning will make students less social and lose interaction skills.”

     Other educators also expressed the fear of middle schoolers losing the knowledge which they learn during the pandemic time, a concern due to lack of student-teacher interaction and a drastic change in learning environment.

     “A worst-case scenario outlined in a paper released in May projected that sixth and seventh graders would retain an average of only 1 to 10 percent of their normal learning gains in math for the year, and just 15 to 29 percent in reading,” said The Hechinger Report.

     Although the limits to in-person experiences are severely limited and the middle school education is far from normal, these schools are doing their best to provide students with a school year most supportive of their adolescent growth.

     Laura Hanby Hudgens, a middle school teacher in the Ozark Hills of Arkansas was experiencing the hit of corona along with her entire middle school; however, rather than sit in despair over their loss of a year, Hudgens decided to turn the pandemic into a less distressing scenario for her students.

     Hudgens spun the pandemic on a positive angle and told her students to look at the event as one of a Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern in literature composed of epic adventures.

     “For kids who just weeks ago were leading ordinary lives,” Hudgens said, “the great adventure they are being called to is the pandemic and this new life of social isolation.” But, by considering their new life experiences as ones which they can overcome as a hero in an adventure, she believes that the loss of middle school development will be lessened.

     Middle school students are feeling the pressures of the new school year. just as much if not more, than high schoolers. Their social development is being negatively affected, and they are struggling without personal interaction. However, the school systems is trying to support these students, and it is enlightening to see educators brainstorming creative ideas to lighten these loads.

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