Pre-COVID Expectations in Post-COVID School

Students who are now back at school in-person are struggling with pre-COVID learning expectations such as lack of sleep and finals.


Niamh Dempsey, Staff Writer

To an outsider, it may seem that COVID-19 made school easier for many high school students. During distance learning, Archbishop Mitty students had open-note tests, more downtime, and no finals. However, all of these benefits seem to have taken a toll. Many students, including myself, have failed to properly retain information and adjust to the pre-pandemic learning style. As a result, some expectations for students have shifted post-distance learning to accommodate students, but many have stayed the same, resulting in a stressful and overwhelming learning environment.

Since the beginning of the school year, many teachers have noticed significant gaps in student learning and have attempted to accommodate them to some degree. For example, after noticing that a majority of my calculus class did not know some trigonometry, concepts we were taught over distance learning, my teacher has not tested us on it and has had to reteach most of it. The inability to remember last year’s coursework has been a nationwide issue as well. Estimates by the NWEA, a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for students pre-K-12, suggest that students retained about 50%-70% of learning that they normally would after a typical summer. 

Simply keeping up with the expected workload of an in-person high school student can be a challenge. Over distance learning, students had the opportunity to get more sleep, procrastinate without serious consequences, and receive modified assignments that oftentimes felt easier. The result was more time away from school to unwind and relax, but with the return of in-person learning, there has been a return of late nights, early mornings, and less downtime for students. The biggest consequence has been less sleep, and with it, decreased attention spans, poorer memories, and reduced creativity, among many other issues. These issues mean that students struggle more with work and simply have less time to do everything. Feeling overwhelmed by school is the last thing a student should experience, and we must reconsider what a healthy schedule looks like for a teenager in this post-pandemic world.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins assessing the impact of COVID-19 on teenagers’ mental health, about 55% of students have experienced a “great deal” or “moderate” changes to their lives that resulted in anxiety and stress.

At the end of every semester, Mitty students face final exams. Well, every semester until the pandemic hit. Canceling finals over distance learning certainly made life less stressful for students and, from a student perspective, was the right thing to do. However, as a result, many students have no idea how to study, and upperclassmen have no chance to transition into more difficult exams. The sudden change is stressful enough for students, but this is on top of typical test anxiety. In 2010, about 10-40% of students experienced test anxiety, but, since the pandemic, more students are experiencing mental health issues than ever before.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins assessing the impact of COVID-19 on teenagers’ mental health, about 55% of students have experienced a “great deal” or “moderate” changes to their lives that resulted in anxiety and stress. The increase of strain for teenagers adds to already existing test anxiety and creates an upcoming finals season that will be more stressful than ever. Final exams are essential for Archbishop Mitty to adequately prepare students for college, but, after not giving them for three semesters, the continued expectation for students to succeed on finals like any other year is ultimately unrealistic and promotes stress.

At the end of the day, we must remember that the pandemic changed the lives of teenagers across the country and will have lasting impacts on them. Even though schools are attempting to bring students’ lives back to normal, we must accept that going back to pre-pandemic school life right away can be harmful and cause even more stress for students. To be clear, this is certainly not the teachers’ fault, as they have had to adjust their teaching as much as students have had to adjust their learning. As a school community, we must accept that pre-pandemic expectations for students are not always going to be the best option, and we must adapt for a better path forward.