COVID and Teenagers

I had an interesting conversation this week with the principal of my district’s alternative school, but first some words about the school and its students. The school was designed for students who didn’t like or succeed in traditional middle or high school for a variety of reasons. Some had discipline issues, some were credit deficient, some were bored, some preferred a small environment, and some, in their words, “just didn’t fit.”

Under the leadership of a spectacular principal and a caring faculty, homeless students found shelter. Due to small, computer-assisted classes every student could work at his/her own speed to attain subject mastery. The archaic 120-hour requirement of seat time vanished. In fact, one enterprising young man, completed 7 math courses in one year! The school faculty embraces a sense of community, and several times a year they hold a barbecue at lunch time for the kids. In return, the students are no longer chronically absent or constantly referred to the assistant principal for infractions.

The principal said, “Sue, COVID has changed my kids. They rebelled against virtual, at-home learning, they missed being at school. Some of them promised to reenroll when things ‘were normal.’ As you know, every Friday I draw names of those for attendance award prizes. In the four years I’ve been doing this, the most popular prize was lunch with the principal from their choice fast food joint. Second, was a bag of candy. But not this year when many of the kids lost their fast food and menial jobs due to COVID lockdowns. Blankets and socks have replaced Whataburger.”

Wow! That anchored me.

“Remember Sue, when your neighbor gave you all the giveaway stuff she’d collected from the casino, and you brought it here over a year ago?”

How could I forget? A trunk load of crap from rice cookers, to dinnerware, pots, and pans, serving dishes, and platters.

“That stuff has sat in the prize closet for over a year, but now, it’s wildly popular. All of this was chosen by our 10 winners today.”

Hmm. Why would a 17-year-old want a ceramic serving platter?

“Can you believe it? All of this is for their moms for Mother’s Day!”

I was moved. So many of these kids were labeled throw-aways, ne’er do-wells, bad boys, etc, but this school culture had changed them. COVID had changed them. They’d gone from selfish, it’s all about me, teens to becoming caring adults. In fact, more members of this graduating class have enrolled at the community college for fall. They’ve experienced first-hand job loss, they’ve struggled with ill family members, and they’ve missed the human connection of regular school.

The incredible tragedy of COVID has changed all of us.

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