How is COVID-19 Impacting Young People's Education?


The pandemic has affected all levels of the education system. A lot of schools and universities immediately closed after the announcements of total or partial lockdowns. Educational institutions, teachers, students, and parents had to quickly adapt to all the unexpected changes brought about by the “new normal”.

Relax Teams invited a panel of professionals to share what they do and how the pandemic has affected their respective organizations.

Joan Silo

Joan Silo is the head of Immaculata High School, a traditional 9 through 12 high school that is part of a larger school system. They are educating within a Catholic framework, traditions, and values. However, it is important to note that they are also open to all faith. 

One of the amazing programs they have is the Health Sciences Career Program in partnership with Rutgers University. They also have a special Scholars Program, Programs for Advanced Learners, Sports Program, and a lot more. 

Joan emphasized how they believe in the education of the child as a whole which has been proven to be very valuable. Their holistic approach focusing also on spiritual development, inner strength, character, and moral development has been really helpful for the kids as they go through the current pandemic.

How has the pandemic impacted your organization and the individuals that you serve?

Immaculata is one of the schools that has been in-person five days a week. For the beginning of the year, however, they had a few instances where they had to go virtual. Currently, some students go to school and some opted for a virtual learning environment. Joan shares how the teachers re-invented themselves to deal with the challenges of having two different groups. 

Pre-pandemic they used to organize games filled with people, students painting faces,  and other crowded events that students participated in. From a leadership standpoint, they now have to consider a lot of factors before making a decision. Joan even mentions how they had to plan the graduation ceremony five times this year! 

And for their students, they witnessed how kids had to go through a lot of anxiety over virtual learning, and even over the fear of losing a family member in COVID. 

What do you want people to remember?

“I think what is important to remember is that it is proven over time that some of the best education is relational, and it's very challenging. Can we have relationships and develop them virtually? We can. But I think for any fear that we had, it's interesting when the very beginning of the virtual learning last March we were talking about, “how's this going to change education?” and we were afraid “is it going to do away with the walls of the school building?” And we feel just the opposite. Everyone now sees the value of this relational, personalized education because of the social-emotional impact and educational value more than anything.

Let's work to get our kids back in school for everyone's health and future and how you can help. When the pandemic is over, I can't wait to have people visit the school. And I invite anyone who listens to this to come and visit us.”

Christopher Hammer

Another member of the panel is Chris Hammer who owns and operates CMH Tutoring and Consulting based in Cape May County, New Jersey. 

He had been working both for himself and Avery Educational Resources based in Fairhaven doing academic tutoring and test preparation for SATs and NACT. 

How has the pandemic impacted your organization and the individuals that you serve?

During the pandemic, the test sites across the state closed and canceled within 48 hours of the actual test date. His students who were ready to take the test were definitely affected. 

Also, the pandemic has affected how and where he works. Pre-pandemic, he meets with students face to face in an office setting or at their homes. Now, he has to do everything through zoom, and “zoom fatigue” is a problem. Also, the students now have about a 30-minute window of time to maintain their focus as opposed to an hour which is what the sessions used to be. 

Chris explains how it is important for parents and teachers to keep reminding themselves that students are not adults. They are new to the current set up trying to balance everything else that goes on in their lives. A lot of things have been taken away from them such as their creative outlets, their chance to participate in after-school activities, their ability to spend time with their friends in school, and so much more. 

What do you want people to remember?

“First, thank you again for including me. I would say the biggest takeaway is to keep informed. As we all know, with everything that we've seen both on educational, health, and otherwise level, we can get new information almost on an hourly basis to make sure that if you or people you're working with or are associated with have questions regarding, the changes in testing requirements. As we all know, many schools have become test-optional, some have changed what they're giving and when they're giving it. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram at chrishammer1971.”

Maria Strada

The third member of the panel is Maria Strada, Executive Director of a non-profit organization, Middle Earth

Middle Earth is much more than fun and games for kids. They provide a safe space for kids with good positive role models, structure, and support. The organization serves youth in Somerset county and they tend to focus more on the needier communities. They have a very heavy presence in Bound Brook, Manville, and North Plainfield among others. (Learn more about her and her organization here.)

How has the pandemic impacted your organization and the individuals that you serve?

Marie shares how they went virtual overnight as soon as the pandemic hit. 

However, more than those changes, the biggest thing they see is the needier families in the community. The pandemic has made them see the struggle for a lot of basic needs like food, security, house, clothing. In addition, they see a lot of fear, anxiety, and depression with the kids and families they serve. 

Middle Earth supported the kids the best way they can. To help in their mental health, they always try to be creative during virtual sessions and they even deliver art kits door to door so that they can participate in arts and crafts. 

What do you want people to remember?

“I feel hopeful, I want people to understand that there's a lot of great stuff happening in Somerset County. I've seen amazing collaborations with people. I've seen our agency, as well as other nonprofits, do creative, wonderful things with the kids. We just did our annual report and I was amazed at how much we were still able to accomplish, but everybody's doing it together. And so I just want to put positive vibes out there and let people know that despite everything that's going on, there's some really good stuff that's happening with our kids in the community.”

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